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“I’ve often looked at something and thought that if it was just tweaked a bit, it could be a whole lot better,” said Elizabeth Foster, founder of Maison Visionnaire.

 

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Foster owned a home fragrance business in the United Kingdom before selling it and moving to the south of France for several years.  She learned a great deal from her frequent visits to Grasse, in the hills north of Cannes, a long-established fragrance center.  When she moved to the U.S. in 2014, Foster started a new fragrance business, Maison Visionnaire.

 

Through much trial and error, Foster started developing a new kind of diffuser for the home.

 

“When you invent something there are always so many ‘trials’ that you have to go through,” she said. “We trialed many different fragrances, making sure they not only smelled fantastic, but that they kept smelling fantastic. We trialed various bottles – which ones didn’t topple over? We trialed different inserts to stop our designs from falling to one side.”

 

Foster wanted to know what people liked and “what did they love?”

 

Maison Visionnaire invented a product called a Composite Diffusion Fiber.  She called it “magic” as it  looks beautiful yet it also “acts as the fragrance ‘engine’ and constantly delivers fragrance until the bottle is empty.”

 

 

In July,  Foster launched her new product line of scented art diffusers and candles.

 

In addition to running her company, Foster is the newly installed president of the New York City chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).  NAWBO was founded in 1975 with the vision to “propel women entrepreneurs into economic, social and political spheres of power,” and represents over 10 million women-owned businesses in the U.S.

 

Read our interview with NAWBO CEO, Jen Earle.

 

See the Scented Art Diffusers on Instagram @maisonvisionnaire

 

Learn more about NAWBO at www.nawbo.org.

 

Video transcript:

 

[Elizabeth Foster] Women still face a lot of problems when starting a business. The percentage of women's small businesses is huge and definitely on the increase. So those women need to be taken seriously.

 

Super:

Elizabeth Foster

Founder, Maison Visionnaire

President, National Association of Women Business Owners NYC

Bank of America Customer

 

 

I'm Elizabeth Foster, I'm the founder of Maison Visionnaire and I'm also the president of NAWBO New York City.

 

Maison Visionnaire is a home fragrance company. We specialize in scented art diffusers.

 

When I first came to America, the bank that opened the door to me was Bank of America. They actually offered me a credit card, which completely changed everything.

 

I'm very proud of the work that I've done, but I'm also really proud of what I do with NAWBO. NAWBO is the National Association of Women Business Owners. We support women growing their businesses, anything from a solopreneur up to a multimillion-dollar business.

 

Bank of America supports NAWBO in various ways. One is that they are a sponsor of the national conference, and another is that they’re a supporter of the national and all of the local
chapters.

 

One of the best parts about being in the NAWBO community are the amazing women that I meet and that I connect with both on a personal level and on a business level.

 

I would like the power to support women business owners to have an equal place, and support them in growing their businesses.

 

End Card:

What would you like the power to do?

Bank of America logo

Learn more: bankofamerica.com/Appointment

 

Bank of America and the Bank of America logo are registered trademarks of Bank of America Corporation. All other logos and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners and are used pursuant to license. Bank of America, N.A. provides informational reading material for your discussion or review purposes only. Interpretations in this release are not intended, nor implied, to be a substitute for the professional advice received from a qualified accountant, attorney or financial advisor. Neither Bank of America, its affiliates nor their employees provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC © 2019 Bank of America Corporation.

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In this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Reema Shroff, owner of Frost 321, shares how she beat the competition by turning liquid nitrogen ice cream and cocktails into an experience that tantalizes the senses and leaves a lasting impression. Listen to her story—and get great tips for standing out from the crowd—below.

 

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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.comand Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com. And here's your host, Steve Strauss.

 

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

                               

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

 

Reema Shroff:       Thanks Steve. Great to be here.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Steve Strauss:        We are speaking with Reema Shroff of Frost 321.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Narrator:               For more great small business tips, check out Bank of America's online small business community at bankofamerica.com/sbc.

 

Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com

and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com

Avni Patel started A28 Architecture in 2015.  She had a vision for the type of architect she wanted to be, but “when I first started, I was a very young idealist and I just wanted to create great buildings.”

 

As her career grew, the Chicago architect focused on inclusive, environmentally and tech friendly design ideas to “make life just a little bit easier or better,” Patel said. "There are ways to design that allow a space to be flexible and work for a multitude of users and design ideas.” Patel saw, though, in many of the current small buildings, these design ideas were not typically integrated.

 

 

Patel felt the only way to address such issues – “there were certain things about the building industry that just didn’t make any intuitive sense to me” – and to do it right meant to commission projects so “I could truly focus on the design,” she said. “That’s why A28 was designed to be a real estate investment and architecture firm.”

 

A28_AvniPatel_SBClientStory_Thumbnail.jpg“As I started working, I realized I have to work within the existing reality. Navigating that reality to find a path that led us here wasn’t easy,” she said. “It took a lot of preparation to really understand financing, real estate investment, business, architecture, design, technology, psychology, and engineering well enough to make them work together and develop a business to achieve their integration.”

 

Together with Bank of America she’s able to pursue her dreams of building, both on the job and for her business.

 

Video transcript:

 

[Avni Patel] Architecture was actually, kind of a calling for me. I just knew I needed to be involved with it. I think I just started thinking a lot about how our environment affects us.

 

[Super]

Avni Patel

Founder and CEO

A28 Architecture

 

[Avni Patel] I’m Avni Patel, an architect, and I started my own design firm, A28 Architecture.

 

I think architecture should be flexible enough to accommodate for everyone. It’s here for us.

 

I just want to be able to bring details that big projects get to have, like eco-friendly design, tech-friendly design, to smaller projects likes homes or residential. Whereas right now they don’t get that kind of attention.

 

Being able to get to a point where you’re financially stable. Where the business could then do the projects that we believed in, was very difficult point to get to.

 

[Super]

Gladys Castillo

Small Business Banker

Bank of America

 

[Gladys Castillo] I first met Avni when she came into the financial center for a simple transaction, and that’s how the relationship began.

 

So once I understood Avni’s business, the two biggest things we were able to help her with was how to save her time through our mobile capabilities. And we’re also able to help her establish credit, for her business.

 

[Avni Patel] Gladys is great. She knows what my goals are, and so these steps are aligning with that.

 

[Gladys Castillo] When I am able to work with strong women, and the fact that I can support them and be an advocate for their financial lives, that to me is amazing. I’m proud of Avni, and it makes me feel really good to be able to support her business.

 

[Avni Patel] I would like the power to bring great design to the everyday person.

 

[End Card]

What would you like the power to do?

Bank of America logo

Learn more: bankofamerica.com/Appointment

 

Bank of America and the Bank of America logo are registered trademarks of Bank of America Corporation.  All other logos and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners and are used pursuant to license. Bank of America, N.A. provides informational reading material for your discussion or review purposes only. Interpretations in this release are not intended, nor implied, to be a substitute for the professional advice received from a qualified accountant, attorney or financial advisor. Neither Bank of America, its affiliates nor their employees provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC @ 2019 Bank of America Corporation.

The 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight explores the unique goals, challenges and everyday realities of women entrepreneurs across the country. This year’s findings show high anticipation for year-over-year revenue growth

and optimism for a better 2020.

 

WSBM-Snap.jpgOver the next 12 months, more women entrepreneurs plan to expand their business and hire new employees than their male counterparts.

 

Women business owners maintain a positive economic outlook with confidence levels holding steady from last year while concern over health care costs and the political environment has decreased and concerns about consumer spending and credit availability increased.

 

This year’s Spotlight also explores access to capital and societal issues. Although women believe access to capital has improved more than half say they still don’t have equal access to capital.

 

Want to know more?

Download the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight

 

Learn more about resources for women entrepreneurs from Bank of America.

Holly Johnson is excited to get to work in her home studio each morning, surrounded by vibrant colored wool felt and Cheeky Monkey Home decorative pillows and accessories.

 

Holly.jpgIt wasn’t always so cozy. Johnson had a stressful office job, and when “my first son was born I was motivated to find a way to have a creative business where I could work from home and have the flexibility to care for my children,” she said.

 

In 2012, Johnson launched Cheeky Monkey Home on Etsy, an online marketplace for independent sellers of handmade crafts. She started the business for the same reason many people take the entrepreneurial leap: She couldn’t find meaningful and unique items to decorate her kids’ rooms, only mass-produced items.

 

“I was trained as a painter and grew up making my own toys and clothes, and I have always found it more interesting to make something tailored to my needs than to purchase off the rack,” Johnson said. “This hole in the children’s décor market ignited my creative determination to solve the problem and was my inspiration to create keepsake-quality home décor for children’s rooms.”

 

 

Cheeky Monkey Home started to grow, and Johnson  began to sell wholesale in 2017.  Along the way she encountered another challenge:  she needed help, in particular sewers.  That’s when her Sew@Home Program was born.  Now Johnson trains, mentors and employs recently resettled refugee women in the Boston area who seek flexible work from home.

 

Looking to grow her business substantially over the next several years, Johnson entered the 2018 Mastercard Grow Your Biz Contest, in association with Bank of America.  As one of four finalists she traveled to New York City to pitch her business to a panel of judges in hopes of winning the $25,000 grand prize.

 

Although she didn’t win the grand prize, Johnson received valuable guidance from the contest judges and in September 2019, she launched a new line of tote bags and handbags. Check them out at Cheeky Monkey Home on Etsy.

 

 

Grow Your Business

 

To enter the 2019 Grow Your Biz Contest, small business owners must share their business strategy by submitting a video (up to one minute in length) on the Grow Your Biz contest site that answers the question: “How would $25,000 help your business grow?*”

 

From the submissions, four finalists will be identified for their business strategy, video creativity and overall enthusiasm to receive a $1,000 Mastercard prepaid card and the opportunity to pitch their businesses to the Grow Your Biz Panel during the final event in New York City on November 14, 2019.

 

The panel of expert judges for the Grow Your Biz contest include:

 

  • Bonin Bough, host of CNBC’s Cleveland Hustles
  • Jaclyn Johnson, founder and CEO of Create & Cultivate
  • Ginger Siegel, Mastercard Head of Small Business,
  • Kelly Firment, Bank of America Small Business Banking executive

 

The judges will provide individual consultation sessions and select one grand-prize winner, who will receive $25,000 to pursue their business plan.

 

*No Purchase Necessary to Enter or Win. Void where prohibited. Open only to small business owners who are legal U.S. residents, and 18 and older. Ends 10/6/19. Restrictions apply. Click here for Official Rules and complete details.

 

Video transcript:

 

[Holly Johnson] I think I knew I wanted to be an artist at a very young age. I can dream something up in my mind, and then make that into something tangible. It’s the most rewarding thing.

 

[Super]

Holly Johnson

Designer & Owner

Cheeky Monkey Home

Bank of America customer

 

[Holly Johnson] I’m Holly Johnson, and I have a business called Cheeky Monkey Home, where I make wool felt appliqué pillows.

 

It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my first child, that I realized working from home was my dream. And that was the perfect kind of transition point for me to start my own business where I could be at home and divide my time more thoughtfully.

 

In the first few years of my business, I was really managing everything. And as sales started to pick up, I found that delegating was really a very important next step.

 

I was also really interested in providing flexible work for mothers who had young children at home. That was the beginning of Sew at Home, where I can train, provide flexible work and community for refugees in the Boston area.

 

[Super]

Samirah Kelhoory

Sewer

 

[Holly Johnson] When I realized that I could actually make an impact, for me that just takes it all to a whole other level.

 

My goal is to expand my business ten times over the next three years. After meeting with my Small Business Banker from Bank of America, the doors really opened up wide in my mind about what the possibilities were.

 

[Tyrone Billingsly] When I first met Holly, we were able to sit down and really understand the ins and outs about her business and the direction that she wanted to go in. And from there, formulate some strategies on how to grow.

 

[Super]

Tyrone Billingsly

Senior Small Business Banker

 

[Holly Johnson] He said you really have to be true to yourself and true to your business. I felt that he was genuinely interested in my success.

 

[Tyrone Billingsly] When I think about Cheeky Monkey Home, it just puts the biggest smile on my face.

 

[Holly Johnson] I would like the power to make beautiful things that bring joy to my customers.Holly.jpg

 

[End Card]

What would you like the power to do?

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Bank of America and the Bank of America logo are registered trademarks of Bank of America Corporation. All other logos and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners and are used pursuant to license. Bank of America, N.A. provides informational reading material for your discussion or review purposes only. Interpretations in this release are not intended, nor implied, to be a substitute for the professional advice received from a qualified accountant, attorney or financial advisor. Neither Bank of America, its affiliates nor their employees provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC © 2019 Bank of America Corporation.

I’ve teamed up with Mastercard and Bank of America team for the third annual Grow Your Biz contest. It’s a contest for small business owners all across the country for the chance to take their business to the next level. The Grow Your Biz Contest began as a Boston initiative in 2017 and expanded nationally last year receiving applications from small business owners across the U.S. And this year, we are doing it again.

 

The grand prize winner will win business consultation sessions with each of the judges, including me, and a chance to win $25,000 to grow their biz, provided by Mastercard. 

 

Entering is easy. Submit a video by October 6th telling us how you plan to grow your small business.  Remember to tell us specifics about your plan to grow your business, have lots of energy like the first year’s winner Rachel Estapa of More to Love Yoga, and last year’s winner Arion Long of Femly. Be creative, but don’t worry about over producing. You can even use your phone to record your video.

 

Four finalists will have the chance to pitch their business live in New York City on November 14th to our Grow Your Biz panel for a chance to win $25,000 and industry expert consultation.

 

Every small business can use a jump start to get to the next level.  Go ahead. Take the leap.  Enter today.

 

No purchase necessary to enter or win. Void where prohibited. Open only to small business owners who are legal U.S. residents, and 18 and older. Ends 10/6/19. For Official Rules and complete details, click here.

Join Bank of America Merchant Services as we walk through the steps for setting up an eCommerce website.

 

From accepting payments to addressing common cybersecurity issues, this educational webinar will feature experts from Bank of America Merchant Services and Visa who will show you what every successful online business needs to get started. Whether you are looking to expand a brick and mortar business online, or planning to launch a new business altogether, join us for helpful information.

 

Session topics include:

  • The 3 P’s of eCommerce
  • Fraud & Security risks
  • Creating positive customer experiences

Date: Wednesday September 18th from 3 p.m. – 4 p.m. ET

 

To register for the Bank of America Merchant Services "Click to sell" webinar, click here.

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Authenticity is what can take "that shop down the street" to a go-to spot. Small Business Community contributor, Chris Brogan shares his thoughts on how small business owners can achieve an authentic voice 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.

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com. And here's your host, Greg Stebben.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm here with Chris Brogan. He's the president of Chris Brogan Media. They offer business and marketing advisory help for mid-to-larger sized companies. If you're not a big company, he also helps small business owners through classes and webinars at Owner Media Group. Chris Brogan Media is at chrisbrogan.com, Owner Media Group is at owner.media. Chris is also a New York Times bestselling author, and his 10th book is coming soon. It's called Dented, Retrofitting Humans for the Modern Digital Age. Chris, welcome.

 

Chris Brogan:             Thank you so much for having me.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Chris, we're going to talk about brand building today, and focus very specifically on one word. It's the word “authentic.” And you're the perfect guy to do this, because you do a lot of work with brands, like Disney, and Coke, Google, GM, Coldwell Banker, Titleist, Humana Health, Cisco, Sony. I could go on, and on, and on. This must be something you think about a lot, because people talk a lot about the word authentic.

 

Chris Brogan:             Well, it's one of those pet peeves of mine. I think that the word authentic is thrown around a lot from marketing types, and I think it's one of those things where ... I had a friend a long time ago talk about marketers and say, "This is why we can't have nice things." I think that the basic term of “authenticity,” taken away from marketers just means you do what you say, and you say what you do, and what you come to the table with is who you really are.

 

                                   What happens in technology, and marketing, and all that sort of thing, is we come away with this sort of weird space-aliens-pretending-to-be-humans kind of version of this. And we're like, "What can we do to seem like a human?" And it's so pervasive right now, especially as more and more digital tools allow us to automate everything.

 

                                   And while I'm not saying, “Don't use digital tools,” while marketing automation is a really important part of business these days, I would say that trying to engineer how to be human is a lot different than helping people better interpret how to bring their real self to their customers at a distance, the way we're so comfortable doing across the counter at a store in a small town.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Again, you're the guy with the upcoming book called Dented, Retrofitting Humans for the Modern Digital Age. So, if authenticity should not be the goal, what should small business owners aim to accomplish when interacting with their customers and prospects?

 

Chris Brogan:             I guess it's not that it's notauthenticity, but I guess the real focus, if you're really worried about that, the real focus comes in two directions at once, which is looking at yourself and making sure you feel comfortable bringing your whole self to the picnic. I use the analogy “picnic” to mean anywhere where you're wondering what you bring. So, if you are coming to work at a company, you want to know what your skills and qualifications and capabilities are. If you're working with clients, you're going to make sure that you've got that thing that they need.

 

                                   And so, on the one side, as the business side of things, you're saying, "What am I going to do that's going to be of use and service to the people that I hope to do business with?" and also be thinking about those people I hope to serve say, "How do I stay clear on seeing the whole person? And really seeing very specific people?"

 

                                   We want to buy from people who have similar, shared values. There was this stat out there somewhere, and I'm making this number up, high 70's or 80%, saying that we want companies, we believe in some way that it's a company's responsibility to be out there doing things that support our shared value. If you think about that, it's a little crazy.

 

                                   If you're a local, small town hardware store, how much are you going to deal with climate change? However, you can. You could say, "We're not gonna do this kind of packaging. We're going to make it super important that we don't sell you little tiny disposable plastic bags." There's all these things that help endear you to the needs of your customer and the people you hope to serve.

 

                                   What we used to think we had to do is look perfect, look shiny, look like the best of everything we've ever been and maybe even if we have a few dents, a few scars, a few marks, maybe we could still show up and be of service. And I think that if we acknowledge instead of ignore or hide those things, that's what we get to when people say they want authenticity.

 

Gregg Stebben:         One of the things I'm getting from all that you just said, it seems to me that business owners would be really smart to think about the thing they do that provides usefulness and service, and think of that separately from who am I? So the who am I part, can be dented. You are dented, I think you would say and otherwise you wouldn't write a book called Dented, Retrofitting Humans for the Modern Digital Age. So, who you are is who you are, dents and all, right?

 

Chris Brogan:            There's so many ways to implement this. In my mind, sort of leaving our flaws and foibles behind for a quick second. I was out with my two kids yesterday, and we were having lunch at a Japanese place, and they wanted sushi. And so we were talking amongst ourselves about a big event, a trade event for video games, and the server who is standing very nearby came over and just sort of politely said, "Oh, are you talking about the E3 conference?" And he became part of our conversation.

 

                                   Well, most companies, most owners and whatnot, try to dissuade people from adding their personal touch to things. And there are definitely times where it's useful and times when it's not. But I think that in the process, in kind of accepting that we're not all perfect, we're being asked to go faster than we've ever gone. We're being asked to collaborate and in a lot of times we're being asked to be forced extroverts.

 

                                  People are blown away when they hear that I'm an introvert, but I am. It's kind of a weird role to be a keynote speaker, an advisor consultant, that sort of a thing, to be out on the public stage and also be not necessarily the first person to want to touch other people and connect. So, I tell people, in a world where we all have to be visual now, in the world where we have to be brief, we have to use video, the mobile devices are taking over the world, et cetera. Well, we still have to bring who we are to that.

 

                                   And if that means accepting that we're too whatever we think we shouldn't be. We're too fat. We're too old. We have a stutter or whatever. Where our big problem is, we have to find a way to bring that. The second part of what you said about worrying about delivering perfect service, we don't necessarily want to make mistakes that impact our customer. That hasn't changed. That'll never change. It's all fine that someone's, quirky and whatnot, but if you ordered a salad and they bring you a hot dog, it's not the right thing.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Or a salad of wilted lettuce.

 

Chris Brogan:             There you go. So we need to protect for that, but it seems like the past version, it looks... salad and wilted lettuce. Someone brings out the salad. It looks terrible. You look down and go, "Oh my gosh, I didn't even notice that." In the old days, the way companies would tend to do something about that is they would either just say, "We didn't do that." They'd brush it off. Nothing like that happened. It's like Jedi mind trick. These aren't the salad leaves you're looking for. And it doesn't work that way anymore. It's too public. Everything's too visual. It's never that we should have been deceptive, but now the tools all point to, "You darn well better do what you say."

 

Gregg Stebben:         Chris, I want to ask you one last question. I'm talking with Chris Brogan. He's an author, keynote speaker, and business advisor. His website is chrisbrogan.com. He works with mid to larger sized companies. He also has another company called Owner Media Group that works with small business owners. Owner Media Group is at owner.media. The last question I want to ask you, because we've been talking about this whole phenomena of the appropriate and misappropriated use of the word authentic. Have you heard of other words like authentic that set off alarms for customers?

 

Chris Brogan:             Oh my goodness. So I think at this point with all the... I think customers, by the way, customers are so tuned to catch BS. And I think we have this weird thing when it comes to marketing or promoting our own company, that we always forget that if we wouldn't want to receive it, why would we think it would be effective to send out? They say, when you send it, it's a well-crafted business letter designed to really drive value to someone else, and when you receive it, it's called junk mail.

 

                                   And I think that when it comes to authenticity, we've just had so many examples of companies not doing what they say or not treating us well, etc. Every single day it seems you can read a new version of what Facebook may or may not have done, or that your wireless carrier is selling your data without your permission, etc., etc.

 

                                  Trust is just at an all-time low. And sort of circling back to my first book about trust agents with Julien Smith, we wrote that saying, there's such an opportunity to really connect with people and to earn their trust and to be open. And where it gets scary for everybody is that to be open means to be a little bit more vulnerable. And I would say going with the word authenticity, the other word is vulnerable. We know this even with a significant other. We could have a conversation, but sometimes we have to let our guard down and if we don't, it's just not going to go the way we need it to go. And it's not going to work for the mutual appreciation of everybody around us.

 

                                  These are not the kinds of things you think about when you run a small HVAC company or something like that. If you're a plumber putting in piping systems, you don't normally sit around thinking, "Am I vulnerable enough to my customer?", but maybe there's some places where we have to think about that, and maybe there are some places where if we're going to try to reach and earn the kinds of customers we most want to sell and serve, then we're going to have to open the kimono a tiny bit.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Well said. He is Chris Brogan. His company is Chris Brogan Media at chrisbrogan.com. That is really targeting mid-to-larger size companies, offering business and marketing advisory services. For smaller companies, he is also the owner of Owner Media Group. They offer classes and webinars there. It's at owner.media and Chris is on Twitter @chrisbrogan. Chris, where can our listeners find out more about your book, Trust Agents, your new book, Dented, and get more of your great marketing tips for small business?

 

Chris Brogan:             If anyone wants, swing by chrisbrogan.com. And I always say the same thing. The little newsletter sign up that pops up. That's the best thing I do every single week. You can always hit reply and talk to me directly, and I think that you get a real fast taste of whether or not you want to connect with me further just from that.

 

Gregg Stebben:         That's great. And for more great tips from Chris and other small business experts, check out Bank of America's online Small Business Community. It's at bankofamerica.com/sbc. Chris, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Chris Brogan:             My pleasure. Thank you.

 

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

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As a small business owner, effective cash flow management can empower you to accomplish long-term success. Ensure you’re carefully budgeting and keeping an eye on your big picture goal with these tips from Ryan Larison, Bank of America SVP and Small Business National Sales Performance Executive.

 

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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. And here's your host, Greg Stebben.

 

Greg Stebben:           We're really excited to welcome Ryan Larison here. He's the SVP, Small Business National Sales Performance Executive at Bank of America. Ryan, welcome.

 

Ryan Larison:            Well thanks, Greg. I really appreciate the invite and the ability to talk to everybody today. Thank you.

 

Greg Stebben:           Well, thank you, because we're going to talk about something so important to small business owners. In a sense, it's kind of a refresher course for many people, but I think this is the kind of information that is worth hearing and rehearing and reviewing often as a small business owner. We're going to talk about cash flow management. Everyone who owns a business knows what cash flow management is, because if you own a small business it's something you're thinking about all the time. But there are probably some very important aspects of cash flow management that many business owners miss, and I'm hoping you can educate us.

 

 

Ryan Larison:             Absolutely, Greg, and effectively managing that cash flow can really empower you to accomplish a few things that will contribute to a long-term success of your business. It does a few things for you. For instance, it allows you to plan for any shortfalls that you might have due to any type of drop in sales or any type of emergency that came up with your business.

 

Ryan Larison:            So we always recommend to save about six to 12 months of reserve cash. That's a real good rule of thumb. It's also a part of careful budgeting, which includes predicting payables and your receivables and accurately tracking changes in your business, because we all know it can be tough at times and requires consistent attention to detail, but it can ultimately be the difference between success and failure.

 

Ryan Larison:             And finally, effectively managing your cash flow, it helps you see the big picture of your business and emphasizes your focus on your profits. Ultimately, you need to know what your break point is, and that really gives you a big-picture goal as to what you're working towards, and then you can effectively manage your cash flow to get to that break point and beyond.

 

Greg Stebben:           It's so interesting, Ryan. In what you just described, it in a sense is very focused on, well in a sense, your relationship with you and your bank account, right? I mean, if I'm planning for shortfalls, I'm setting money aside or making sure that we have money there for if there's a problem. If I'm budgeting, again, it's my small business and my budget. If I'm focusing on profits, again, it's looking at the accounts, talking with the accountant, maybe talking with the bookkeeper.

 

Greg Stebben:           But there's a whole other side of managing cash flow that is also very important. It's the part of managing your cash flow that involves customers. Because customers are king, customers are queen, but sometimes these relationships can get a little tricky to manage, and you want to make sure those long relationships stay and continue to be great, profitable relationships, and you want to manage relationships with new customers. What are some strategies we can employ to help manage the customer side of cash flow?

 

Ryan Larison:            That's a great question. And listen, we always want to keep our customers happy, but if the payments are not coming in or they're coming in sporadically, it really can impact your business negatively. So a couple of the strategies that we advise our small business clients to consider include establishing clear terms in your invoices, so you can't fault the customer if they're not paying you if you haven't expressed the terms correctly.

 

Ryan Larison:            One area you can utilize is maybe some late fees in order to get a great way to spur them to actually start paying off their amounts. Another great way is to accelerate receivables, so by meeting the needs of your most busy customers, one great way is to get a lockbox. We have lockboxes that we utilize that you can mail your payments in and they have faster processing. Or even my favorite, which is an electronic payments portal that is the quickest and easiest way in order to get that payment over to us.

 

Ryan Larison:             And then finally, this is probably the most important. I like this a lot better than late payments. It's to engage the customer and maybe even have some discounts or rewards for referrals as well as many ways to pay the invoices. So maybe you offer a discount on invoices paid immediately or even allowing your customer to pay via credit or debit card. That's a quick and easy way to get those payments over to you and get those into your hand in a very fast manner.

 

Greg Stebben:           I love those ideas, especially the idea of incentivizing, as you said, engaging customers and incentivizing them to pay faster, either making it easier for them to do that or even using incentives like discounts and things like that. Because you never know when your customers might also find that as a benefit, and if you don't ask, you'll never find out that that actually could be a great way for you to help manage cash flow.

 

Greg Stebben:           So Ryan, I want to ask, are there other tips you would want to give small business owners who are nervous about their cash flow? Are there other things you've learned from working with small business owners that might be helpful to our listeners today?

 

Ryan Larison:             A few more things. So one thing that may not actually come to your mind as a business owner is you can actually creatively schedule your own payables as well. You can negotiate 60 or 90-day payments that may give you a little bit of breathing room when things slow down. And so maybe you have a cycle that's a little bit different than everybody else, and so you just have and communicate with your vendors around a different payment schedule.

 

Ryan Larison:            Or you can…It can also be helpful to explore options when determining how to handle payables and recurring expenses. So if there is a shortfall, you can keep information like, such as with your loans and lines of credits and utilize those in order to help you through your cash flow.

 

Ryan Larison:             And of course, we do this at our bank, and I'm sure you do it as a small business owner. It's really important to make sure that you forecast wisely. So when you think about where you're going and what that will mean for upcoming budgets and inflows and outflows, and just be realistic with where you think your business will be and just make sure you forecast correctly, because a good plan can always get you through those tough times.

 

 

Greg Stebben:            And I would guess, and I think anyone who owns a small business can identify with this, being surprised is always putting yourself in the worst possible place when it coming comes to managing your cash flow.

 

Ryan Larison:            That's correct. You want to try to figure out what could come your way and have the best plan possible for those incidences that happen, that just typically will put you in a bad spot, and just have a couple of plans of attack in order to go after it. And communication is always key. In talking with your vendors and talking with your clients, that communication piece can really help you get and utilize cash appropriately.

 

Greg Stebben:           Well, that is really great advice. He is Ryan Larison. He is the SVP, Small Business National Sales Performance Executive with Bank of America. This is “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. And for more great small business tips, check out Bank of America's online small business community at bankofamerica.com/sbc.

 

Greg Stebben:           Ryan, thank you so much for joining us.

 

Ryan Larison:            Thank you, Greg. I appreciate it.

 

Speaker 1:                 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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Make sure your small business leverages to right influencers to reach your desired target audience. Small Business Community contributor, Joel Comm, shares his influencer insights 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.

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com. And here's your host, Gregg Stebben.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I am here with Joel Comm. His website is joelcomm.com Joel is J-O-E-L. Comm is C-O-M-M, dot com. He's on Twitter and Facebook @JoelComm. Joel was a true internet pioneer and he's been creating profitable websites, software, products, and helping entrepreneurs succeed since 1995 and he calls himself the functional futurist. He doesn't just see the future. He gets there first.

 

Gregg Stebben:         And in addition to being the functional futurist, he is also an author, speaker, consultant, and podcaster. So Joel, one of your books is called The Fun Formula: How Curiosity, Risk-Taking, and Serendipity Can Revolutionize How You Work. Welcome and I hope we can talk about this and things like influencer marketing because influencers are supposed to be fun, too.

 

Joel Comm:               Oh, I hope they are. But the most important thing is that influencers are supposed to be influential and there's a lot of people that call themselves influencers, but they don't actually influence anybody to do anything. That is not an influencer.

 

Gregg Stebben:         And certainly not one you should hire or pay.

 

Joel Comm:               Right.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Can you define influencer marketing for us?

 

Joel Comm:               Well, it's basically working with the brand to bring awareness of that brand to their target market in the hopes that it will bring results, right? So, an influencer is typically somebody who will use, represent, a product or service to their audience in order for that audience to say, "Hey, this person approves or likes or uses this. Maybe I should too."

 

Gregg Stebben:         Hmm. So, it's endorsement marketing or what we might have called endorsement marketing at another time in media history.

 

Joel Comm:               Sure. I think that it really is the same thing only now instead of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, being the ones to do the influencing, a new realm of micro celebrities, micro influencers, that are not nearly as well-known as some of these major celebrities, which also means you don't have to pay the same multimillion dollar celebrity fees, but also have a more personal connection with their audience.

 

 

Joel Comm:               So as a tech influencer, the people that, the companies which hire me to influence, they know me already. I have a relationship with them. It's not that, "Oh, they've seen me play sports or that they've seen me in movies." Many of them have actually met me or has engaged with me already on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or YouTube or Twitter or anywhere. And so, there's a greater likelihood that those people will be responsive to an influencer that they're more connected to.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So if I'm a small business owner, why might this be a better way for me to spend my marketing dollars than to pay for traditional paid advertising?

 

Joel Comm:               Well, that's a great question. Paid advertising, you're targeting a market, but the messaging is coming directly from you as the merchant. And so, you might not have any relationship with the people that you're trying to reach. Whereas if you secure the services of an influencer, it is a third-party endorsement, right?

 

Joel Comm:               People are…there's a reason people go to third-party review sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor, or that we read reviews on amazon.com assuming that what we're reading is legitimate—and we know that there are reviews that are planted and that some people game the system—but assuming that those are legitimate, we trust the input and advice of other people more than we trust the messaging that comes directly from the merchant themselves.

 

Joel Comm:               And if it's somebody that we know that we already trust, that endorsement is exponentially more influential, and so it makes sense rather than just go and buy ads that go direct to the consumer to say, "Hey, here is somebody who has some clout that is influential. They already use my product or my service. What if I pay them to tell their target market about what we're selling?" And it's highly effective when done right.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm talking with Joel Comm. He's an amazing guy. He's an internet pioneer. He's been around the Internet and social media since the beginning. He calls himself the functional futurist. One of his books, one of his 15 books, is called The Fun Formula: How Curiosity, Risk-Taking and Serendipity Can Revolutionize How You Work. One of the things you mentioned, well you mentioned some big name athletes as potential influencers, and we all recognize this because we see celebrities as influencers. We know that this is part of what they do, but I'm a small business owner. Is it possible that there are influencers in my world that can make a difference for my business because I surely can't afford a movie star or an all-star athlete?

 

Joel Comm:               Sure, of course there are. And the key to that is finding one of your customers that has an audience. That's really the key right there. Somebody who already buys your socks and wears them and enjoys them. Somebody who eats your baked goods that has an audience that has perhaps a local audience that they could reach, go, "Mm, that is one good cupcake. Go over to Cupcake Heaven over there and try one of these." And they post a video. I mean that would be me. If there was a cupcake place I loved and they're going to say, "We're going to pay you in cupcakes, Joel." I would be like down there and I would shoot a video of myself eating this delicious cupcake and I would post it on Instagram perhaps. And then people that know me here locally would go, "Oh Joel, that looks amazing. I've got to go try one of those." It's that simple.

 

Gregg Stebben:         And I trust Joel. So if Joel says it's the best cupcake, it's gotta be the best cupcake.

 

Joel Comm:               Right. And he really appears to be enjoying that cupcake. I mean, him and that cupcake should probably get a room. They're having such a good time. So, this is influencer marketing at its most basic, and it really is basic. This is not rocket science. Which is good because I am not an engineer and a rocket scientist. But I do know what I like and I do know that I enjoy telling other people what I like and by demonstrating how much I like a brand for their product or their service, I'm communicating to those who follow me, "I think this is worthy of your attention. Here's why. Want to check it out? Here's how."

 

 

Gregg Stebben:         So in this cupcake scenario, Joel.

 

Joel Comm:               Now I'm hungry.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yeah. Well you're going to just have to wait a few minutes. Sorry about that. But I'm the cupcake shop owner and I know you love my cupcakes and I know you have a good audience and people trust you. So, you seem like a really good influencer for me and my cupcake shop. Am I going to get away with just offering you all the cupcakes you can eat in exchange for you tweeting and Instagramming, Snapchatting and Facebooking and did I mention tweeting my cupcakes? Or might I have to pay a little bit more than that?

 

Joel Comm:               Yeah, I would probably ask you to pay me as well and then I would ask you to pay for my doctor bill because I'd become huge and unhealthy from eating too many of your delicious cupcakes. But I've done all kinds of influencer deals. I've worked with big brands. Most recently I did some influencer work for Alibaba as a consumer electronic show. I've worked with IBM and just a lot of other brands and I've worked with smaller brands and sometimes it's just that, "You know what? If you'll send me that piece of electronic hardware that you created or your software. Let me try it. If I like it, I'll take a picture, I'll send a tweet." Sometimes I've actually had people send me socks because people know I like fun socks and I'm in the crypto currency space because my podcast is all about bitcoin.

 

Joel Comm:               It's called the Bad Crypto Podcast and I've had people that are making these fun crypto currency socks, send them to me, unsolicited, and that that's a good way, by the way, to get an influencer to do something without paying them is just sending them a gift. Don't expect anything in return, but if it's something that they like, then odds are they're going to be, "Hey, I got this cool coffee mug or this gift basket or whatever from so-and-so." And they'll often tag you and sometimes that is the most cost-effective way to get influencer marketing and word of mouth that you could possibly do.

 

Gregg Stebben:         You actually bring up a really important point here and that is there have been some issues with the FTC about influencer marketing, right? I mean if you are paid to be an influencer, you are supposed to, in some appropriate and legal way disclose, that you're being paid, and we need to be conscious of that.

 

Joel Comm:               Oh yes you are. Yeah, you are. And so the hashtags that you are to use, if it's sponsored in any way, and that could mean payment or that could mean that you received goods or services of some value. You're supposed to use one of these three hashtags: either #ad #sponsored or #promoted, and that is what the FTC is looking for. As long as you have labeled, you don't have to have this long disclaimer, you just need to have one of those hashtags. And that is what is commonly understood as full disclosure.

 

Gregg Stebben:         And so when someone sends you socks or I send my product to a celebrity hoping he or she will use it or wear it or eat it and take a picture of it, are they because they got it for free, supposed to use one of those three hashtags?

 

Joel Comm:               You know, I am not a lawyer and I've never played one on television. I think a gift is a gift and I don't know that it's necessary. Now, if an agreement was made, right, I think that that's different. If there was a contract, whether verbal or written, I would probably default to, "Hey, if you'll send me the ..." If somebody was trying to negotiate with you, what would it take to do this? Send me these. You know, it's a sticky area. I don't really know. I'm not going to give legal advice.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Where do I….Do you know where I would go to find out more? Is that the FTC website?

 

Joel Comm:                Yeah, I would probably do that. I would go use a search engine and just ask that question.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Okay. The last question really quick is if I am engaging with an influencer, what kind of metrics should I be looking at to know if that influencer is really creating results for me and these are actually a return on investment?

 

 

Joel Comm:               Yeah. You want to look at their engagement. It's not about the number of followers they have. It's about the engagement that they have. There are micro influencers, people that are very influential in small communities. They might only have a thousand followers on Twitter, but then you'll see 20 or so reactions, which is a lot for just having a thousand followers. So look at how many followers they have and then look at the metrics for what type of engagement, what kind of comments are people leaving? Are they retweeting and sharing this content? And then you'll know whether or not this person is truly influential or has the reach to get the job done.

 

Gregg Stebben:         All right. He is Joel Comm. It's J-O-E-L C-O-M-M. Joelcomm.com,on Twitter and Facebook @JoelComm. I mentioned one of his books, he's written 15 but one of them is The Fun Formula, How Curiosity, Risk-Taking and Serendipity Can Revolutionize How You Work. Full disclosure for Joel, he's also, I believe, an influencer for Bank of America, correct?

 

Joel Comm:               That is correct. I was going to leave that to you to bring up.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yeah. So, for more great tips from Joel as one of Bank of America's influencers and other small business experts like him, check out Bank of America's online Small Business Community bankofamerica.com/SBC. Joel, thanks for joining us.

 

Joel Comm:               You bet. My pleasure.

 

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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The Department of Labor has made changes that could impact your Small Business payroll. Listen to Erron Stark, an ADP Executive, share insights on what the latest Labor Department rule changes mean for your Small Business in 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.

 

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.comand Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com. And here's your host, Gregg Stebben.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm here with Erron Stark. He's the Division Vice President SBS Channel Sales for ADP. Erron, welcome.

 

Erron Stark:               Thank you for having me. Excited to be here.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm really excited to talk to you as well because there's a lot going on within the Department of Labor, as far as them proposing some big changes when it comes to minimum salary requirements, particularly, if I understand it correctly, when it comes to those who qualify as having administrative professional and executive exemptions. Can we talk about…obviously I want to talk about the bigger topic, which is those minimum salary requirements, but first let's talk about who qualifies in that category as having administrative, professional and executive exemptions. Can you explain to us who that is?

 

Erron Stark:               Sure. So the Fair Labor Standards Act, which is actually what is being reviewed right now and has been reviewed for the better part of five or six years now as it pertains to overtime exemptions, and if those individuals, as you were just referring to, that have classifications as administrative roles, professional roles, executive roles within an organization, there are very specific definitions and elements of their job functions that would then classify each one of those particular job types.

 

Erron Stark:                And over the years, the minimum salaries for those particular individuals has fluctuated to allow an organization to pay an individual within those classifications a certain salary on a weekly or biweekly basis that would exempt them from being eligible for overtime. So whether or not I worked 40 hours or 50 hours in that particular week, if I met that minimum salary for that specific pay period, I would not be eligible for overtime. And what is currently on the docket to be reviewed and potentially implemented is a significant increase to those thresholds, which will impact business owners on how they structure and classify certain individuals. But because of that, a lot of business owners need to be a little bit more in tune with what those classifications are and what those threshold implications could be.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So if I'm a business owner and these proposed changes are in whatever state they're at and perhaps about to become effective as law or not, but what should I be doing today...?  First of all, what's the best way for me to monitor what's happening and then what kinds of changes should I be thinking about in terms of preparing for this, should these changes become law?

 

Erron Stark:               That's a great question and I think for large organizations, many institutions typically have some type of regulatory department within their HR arena or legal arena that helps them classify certain individuals and be in sync with the differentiation between state and federal minimum thresholds and the classifications. But specifically for small business owners, what we recognize is that their passions typically get them into opening up a business around their respective craft and service that they're trying to provide to the market, but these particular areas of concentration and education are not necessarily what they got into business for.

 

Erron Stark:               So I think first and foremost is to begin to familiarize themselves with these classifications. And if the bandwidth is not necessarily there, to start to identify services that they could employ, that could help them better define where they currently stand today as far as being in compliance with the current regulations, but then also starting to understand what the future implications could be.  And one of the biggest areas of opportunity for most organizations big or small is ensuring that they have a structured time and attendance process today.

 

Erron Stark:               Because most organizations, if they do define their employees as exempt from overtime, they then don't feel the need to have any type of attendance and/or time tracking mechanism in place. And again, if these new changes go into effect, those are certain protocols or certain systematic changes that if they are proactive today, they will be in a much better place and feel more confident that they are ready for those changes before they go into effect.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So you mentioned a very interesting thing, which is services that can help businesses monitor this, prepare for it. I'm talking with Erron Stark. He's the Division Vice President SBS Channel Sales for ADP. Who provides those services? And I'm guessing a company like ADP does that. But if not, help direct us so we know where to go and look for those services.

 

Erron Stark:               It is convenient that we do, but I would be lying if I said we were the only player in that game. However, the services that, if I were a small business owner that I would be looking for, are services that can use economies of scale, because most small business owners from a cost perspective, it's usually not efficient for them to employ a full-time SHRM-certified HR professional that a large organization may. But there are services that exist where you can tap into teams of those SHRM-certified HR professionals that can help give guidance and evaluate your current infrastructure and then tell you where there are certain gaps.

 

Erron Stark:                And again, it's almost using it on an as need basis as opposed to maybe a more proactive or robust HR offering. But depending on your needs, size of organization, the growth trajectory of your organization, those are services that are flexible. ADP does happen to provide those that are scalable, anything from reactive to proactive HR support and guidance to keep an organization compliant with changes such as this around Department of Labor regulations.

 

Gregg Stebben:         One of my questions for you, Erron, and you may not know the answer, but I'm gonna ask anyway, do you have any sense of how many small businesses—as a percent—these proposed changes might affect?

 

Erron Stark:               It’s a great questionand I can tell you confidently that it's at minimum 50%. It's hard to identify across the entire chasm of small business owners coast–to-coast and certain job descriptions that they have how many of them are currently in compliance, how many that are currently within the current regulations out of compliance. But what I can tell you is that once these changes go into effect, that number will increase substantially from 50% into the high 70s and 80s, where I as an individual, especially as organizations grow in size, they may have individuals that have already exceeded those thresholds to be considered exempt, but it's with a significant level of confidence that there are going to be levels of the organization that have individuals being paid at certain rates that will not meet the proposed changes. So again, big or small, I think there's going to be a significant impact to the business community in general and how they approach these changes.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So really those numbers and those percentages are high enough that almost anybody with a small business needs to have this on their radar starting today if it's not there already.

 

Erron Stark:               Correct.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I want to go back to something else you said. You mentioned regulations on the state level. Because, of course, right now what we're talking about is the federal Department of Labor, but you also mentioned state. What impact can state laws have on this?

 

Erron Stark:               Yeah. It's interesting because, in most cases, state law, when it pertains to Department of Labor regulations, will supersede that of federal. However, what we've learned is that in certain instances, a state may have a lower threshold and using minimum wage potentially as an example, if a state has a lower minimum wage than that of the federal minimum wage, whichever one is higher will win for the employee. So rest assured that these changes on the FLSA front will more than likely follow a similar type of model where what these threshold are, if the state is higher than federal, then an organization will have to follow the state guideline based on them residing within that state. And if the federal happens to be higher than the state, then they will then have to follow the federal in favor of the employee themselves.

 

Gregg Stebben:         And you're again I think in a subtle way making a case for why a small business needs to go get some expert help from a service that specializes in this. Because if you own or you're running a small business, it's probably going to be very difficult for you to sort this all out. And Tthere's probably a good chance you're going to miss something that's very important. You should focus on running your business successfully and not trying to become expert at something that there are already experts for you to hire to assist you.

 

Erron Stark:               Yeah and to take it one step further, what we've seen in feedback from businesses that employ such services from ADP is that their prior course of action was to go on the web and search for what they would perceive be the right approach to handle these matters. And when it comes to regulations within the Department of Labor and just federal and state regulations in general, the amount of interpretation that can take place and how one person reads it versus another, it's intriguing to say the least.

 

Erron Stark:               And again, one just doesn't want to get caught in a situation where I as a business owner interpreted what I read on the internet versus how it actually should have been read, which is where a HR professional can truly help them decipher what is going to be compliant for their organization.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So it seems to me an analogy here is for the same reason that I have an accountant who helps me interpret tax law and apply it to my circumstances, this is complicated stuff that I'm needing another professional to help me interpret. And that actually gives me both the ability to sleep better at night, but it also gives me some cover should there be a problem down the road. I did all the right things to do our best at interpreting the laws even if we might have missed something.

 

Erron Stark:               It's a phenomenal analogy just because for decades, if not centuries, with the accountant profession being one of the most tenured professions out there that business owners have always entrusted to help give them guidance on how to run their business. When it comes to the HR arena that is growing substantially, the reason behind that is due to the increased legislation that has continued to impact business owners both big and small.

 

Erron Stark:                And with those increased legislation that have continued to be passed typically in favor of the employees, when you combine that with the extensive media coverage that an employee has access to and just the sensitivity of how employers engage with their employees, which is their greatest asset, it has become even more prevalent for an organization to go beyond just the four walls of their accountant guidance to seek out HR professionals that can also help ensure and insulate their organization so they can focus on growing their business as opposed to having to stay up at night worrying about whether or not they are prepared for these types of changes or whether or not they're in compliance in general.

 

Gregg Stebben:         That's really well said. I'm talking with Erron Stark. He's Division Vice President SBS Channel Sales for ADP. And Erron, I want to ask one last question and that is what is the status of these proposed new rules? Do we know if or when they will take effect?

 

Erron Stark:               So the latest that we have been privy to is that the target date is January of 2020. So we're not necessarily looking too far out on the horizon. I would preface that by saying this has been a change that has been on the docket for quite some time now. And it has gone through a myriad of modifications. And I think that also could potentially give a business owner a little bit of a false sense of security today because it's been something that has been in the proposal stage for so long that they could make a assumption that it will continue to stay in that stage.

 

Erron Stark:               But my precaution to those individuals is to say if you are not prepared for the change, once it eventually goes into effect, it will have a significant implication to business owners and not in a negative way. It's just going to require a tremendous amount of visibility into current classifications, potential restructuring of whether or not an employee is salary versus hourly. And those types of exercises, if it's rushed for a business owner because they waited too long or they just didn't believe that it truly was going to pass, is where you could potentially get yourself into hot water because then once it's rushed, you typically don't do it well or implement the right strategies to ensure that it does not impact your organization in an adverse way.

 

Gregg Stebben:         And if you're caught by surprise and you're having to do this in sort of emergency mode, you're taking resources away from other important parts of your business. So I think we all understand that planning ahead and working ahead and being smart about what you're doing always make sense. I think that's great advice and Erron, it sounds like what you're saying is: the time is now.

 

Erron Stark:               For sure. I would complement this conversation by saying this is just one of many changes that have already taken place, and there are even more legislative changes that again are in favor of employees to help strengthen their position in the workforce today. In the tight labor market that we have with an almost 50 year low in unemployment, the employees are super important to every organization today. The retention of those employees are important. So employing some type of HR strategy, employing some type of insulation to ensure that your organization is compliant should mean a more comprehensive outlook outside of just FLSA and these changes that could potentially go into effect in January.

 

Erron Stark:                And that way if you are proactive in ensuring that you are holistically compliant, if and when these changes go into effect, which it seems stronger today than it ever has, that January is a realistic timeframe, you will be even more prepared and, to your point, not have to worry about being distracted at that time so you can continue to grow and focus on what you got into business for initially.

 

Gregg Stebben:         That's really very well said, Erron. Thank you. He's Erron Stark, Division Vice President SBS Channel Sales for ADP. Erron, thanks for joining us here on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. This interview and lots of other great small business tips will be available if you check out Bank of America's online Small Business Community. That's at bankofamerica.com/sbc. Erron, thank you for joining.

 

Erron Stark:               Oh, it was my pleasure, and thank you for having us. Look forward to doing more of these soon.

 

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

 

 

Learn more about ADP® payroll and HR solutions from Bank of America.1

 

1ADP is a registered trademark of ADP, LLC, used under license. Bank of America does not deliver and is not responsible for the products, services or performance of ADP, LLC. Data connection required. Wireless carrier fees may apply. Other bank fees may apply. See the Business Schedule of Fees available at bankofamerica.com/businessfeesataglance for details.

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Ensuring your employees are aware of their value is more important than ever. On this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Chris Brogan shares how small business owners can help inspire and motivate employees to increase retention.

 

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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. And here's your host, Gregg Stebben.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. I'm here with Chris Brogan. He's an author, keynote speaker and business advisor. He's also the president of Chris Brogan Media at ChrisBrogan.com.They offer business and marketing advisory help for mid-to-larger-size companies. If you're not a big company, Chris also has a company called Owner Media Group at Owner.Media. That's where he helps small business owners through classes and webinars. Chris, welcome.

 

Chris Brogan:             Thank you so much. Glad to be here.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Chris, I want to talk to you today about how to bring out the best in your employees. Before we go there, I want to point out that your upcoming book, you've written one book which is a New York Times bestseller — it's called Trust Agents— but your upcoming book, your 10th book, is called Dented: Retrofitting Humans for the Modern Digital Age. You also post a lot of posts on Twitter using #Dented. Your Twitter account is @chrisbrogan.

 

                                   I want to talk about how do we bring out the best in our employees. This is more important than it's ever been. Is this also a big focus of your upcoming book Dented?

 

Chris Brogan:             It is. One of the ways that I'm looking at modern business is that, at least in the west, and at least with the kinds of the companies that I've been working with, there's a lot of situation where unemployment's at a very, very low level right now. Retention is a lot more important than ever before. However, at the same time, there's a lot of stuff going on that's challenging to businesses.

 

                                   For instance, I'm seeing that there's a lot of trouble with presenteeism, meaning people disengaged. That's costing companies up to $550 billion a year. People come to work, they're doing their job, but they're also thinking about the fact that a family member is dealing with an addiction problem, or they're dealing with the mental health challenge of depression or something like that.

 

                                   My work in this space, what I'm trying to do is ... Some of this is coming from the hectic side of all this digital stuff coming at us. Some of it's just coming from work and life are not in balance, and they're not supposed to be, but there needs to be a new fit there. What I'm looking to do is, how do I help companies, employees, executives, everyone, how to help them figure out how to bring their whole self to the interactions that they need to have? What are we going to do to connect, interact, and belong at the level that we need to?

 

Gregg Stebben:         You're asking a lot of questions there. I'm hoping we can transition to the idea that you might have some tips to help us do that. What kinds of things should we be thinking about doing to inspire and motivate our employees?

 

Chris Brogan:            Well, I'll back it up a little. One thing I'd say is that humans in general have one great need more than any other. Stephen Covey talked about this a billion years ago in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He said humankind's greatest need was the need to feel wanted.I would even go a layer easier than that, and say to feel seen and understood.

 

                                  I think that more so than ever before, there's so much distraction. I'm looking at how do companies work with their employees to develop them a little bit more. How do employers work with their teams to say, "I see you. I understand what's going on with you. Let's make this environment work best for what's going on in your world."

 

                                   Then in the meantime, I think that companies need to have five things that they're working on a lot more often, even if they hide this inside of other language, if they need to. Resilience. How much are people able to withstand a bad situation happening or a negative situation, and then get back on station, so to speak. How do they get back to work?

 

                                   Clarity. You'll have time to try to sort through stuff. The level of people who are expert communicators is much lower than the level of people who need to communicate these days. I think some skill there needs to happen.

 

                                  Systems. One thing we tend to do a lot as leaders and employers, we tend to believe that there's a whole bunch of knowledge inbred into the people that we've hired in. You should know that already…that anyone, blah, blah, blah. That's the sort of language that comes out, but those systems don't exist, or they're not as explicit as they need to be. We need to retouch on that.

 

                                  Confidence. It is amazing how many opportunities exist overall to have your confidence mashed down over and over again. So can we build in ways to work on people's confidence, develop their confidence, etc.?

 

                                  Then I talked a little bit about this when I said clarity, but communications in general, we need to really train everybody in that organization how to do things like give feedback, how to do things like do effective brainstorming when you're doing collaboration work and whatnot, and how to really make sure that we're speaking to the variety of humans that could be there. We tend to get a lot more homogenous in our view and talk to everyone, but the world doesn't really react to that well.

 

                                  Those five things, resilience, clarity, systems, confidence and communication, I think are part of a core operating system for helping leaders and their employees work better.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I think part of what you're saying here is that in today's world, where we have what many are calling a war for talent, employers need to be more aware than ever of the value of the employees they have, not lose them, that's retention, and also understand that making your employees feel valued will make it easier for you to attract more employees, including the friends and associates of the valued employees you already have. Am I summarizing that well?

 

Chris Brogan:            Oh, very well. There are stats like that. Employees who feel their voices are heard at work are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. By the way, I think this stat I'm going to read to you is the least shocking stat you could ever hear. Ninety-six percent of employees believe that showing empathy is an important way to advance employee retention. I'm wondering who the 4% were, but you know. That's something I read. Eighty-nine percent of workers at companies that support wellbeing initiatives are more likely to recommend that company as a good place to work.

 

                                  These numbers matter. There's math to this. There's money to this, but for so many years and still ongoing, we call this stuff the soft skills, which is silly. This is everything. There are almost no real factory jobs. There are almost no real, we don't care who sits in that chair, just pull the lever when the light turns blue. That doesn't exist anymore.

 

                                   I know that's a threat to some people, who would just rather people shut up and do their dumb job, but it's really not ... If you're going to make a company that's thriving, you're not going to get away with it using that methodology.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I want to ask you about one other type of employee, Chris. I'm talking with Chris Brogan. He's an author, keynote speaker and business advisor. He's at ChrisBrogan.com. He's on Twitter @chrisbrogan. He's the author of nine books, including the New York Times bestseller Trust Agents. His 10th book is upcoming. It's called Dented, Retrofitting Humans for the Modern Digital Age.

 

                                  I'm coming back to Dented, because I want to ask you about one type of employee that I think every business owner has had. This is somebody who does a great job, but is shy or introverted, and you believe as a business owner that you could help them transform themselves, frankly, but also bring so much more to the company if you could help them bring themselves out of that introverted state. Do you have ideas for how we can encourage someone to become even greater at using the skills and experience and thoughts that they already have, when they're shy or introverted?

 

Chris Brogan:            I love the question, because I want to say at the front of it, one really difficult challenge for extroverted people is they think, "Well, actually, that's where you should be. You should be out like me."

 

Gregg Stebben:        Yeah, that's me. I'm the guy asking the question and that's me.

 

Chris Brogan:            Yeah. I hear you. The challenge there is that some people were born to be stage hands. Some people love painting the set, and hoisting the fake rainbow up and over the picture at the right moment during the school play. Other people, like my oldest son, love to wear glitter and sequins, and scream as loud as he can every line in his play.

 

                                   We need both. I would say that instead of how do we make an introvert more extroverted, the question is how do we mine those deep waters, because there's just so much value in there.

 

                                   To me, one way to do that is to encourage other means of communication and interaction. They're the kind of people you could say, "Hey. Can you write a little report?" or, "Hey. Are you up for sharing a quick five bullets every now and again?" There's always ways to get people a step or two into sharing what they know.

 

                                   One thing that helps really introverted people a lot are confidence building opportunities. I think that one missing piece of work that anybody who owns a business could learn something from those time wasting video games that I love so much, is that games have stages and levels and checkpoints. Work doesn't. I would say the one cool way to work with introverts is to say, "Here's what level one of interacting looks like." "Here's what level two looks like." "Can we get some more interaction here?" If I built this person's confidence, what would that look like? What would feel rewarding to that person for sharing? Then you start to see how you could design something.

 

                                  When I work with executives to design better ways to lead their people, or to tune up their leadership, one of the things I'm looking for is that. Are there more breaks that we can stick in, are there more checkpoints and systems? Specific to introverts, I think that's the method is get smaller bites, but get lots of those bites. Make it a nice tapas meal, and then you get their value.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I really like the analogies there, tapas meals, and to the levels or leveling up in gaming. He is Chris Brogan. His company is Chris Brogan Media at ChrisBrogan.com. He's also the owner of Owner Media Group for small business owners, where they offer classes and webinars. Owner Media Group is at Owner.Media. You can also follow Chris on Twitter, like I do, @chrisbrogan. His New York Times bestselling book, Trust Agents was one of his nine books. His 10th book is coming. It's called Dented: Retrofitting Humans for the Modern Digital Age.

 

                                  Chris, in addition to your website, are there other places people can go to learn more about you, or are there things on your website you would point us to that can offer great value?

 

Chris Brogan:            ChrisBrogan.com works well. If you get there, there's a newsletter that will pop up and bother you. That's my best thing I do every single week. If you found this interesting, grab that newsletter. You can always hit reply to me directly from there, and we can chit chat.

 

Gregg Stebben:         That's great. For more great tips from Chris and other small business experts, check out Bank of America's online Small Business Community. It's at bankofamerica.com/SBC.

 

                                   Chris, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Chris Brogan:             My pleasure. Thank you.

 

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

 

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A bank loan is a great way to help entrepreneurs start growing their own business. On this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Steve Strauss shares six steps to successfully obtaining a small business loan.

 

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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. Here’s your host, Gregg Stebben.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” brought to you by ForbesBooks and Bank of America. Steve Strauss joins us to talk about six essential steps for getting a business loan. Steve is USA Today's small business columnist and also the author of 17 books, including the best-selling Small Business Bible. Steve, thank you for joining us.

 

Steve Strauss:           Gregg, great to be here. Thanks for having me.

 

Gregg Stebben:         This is obviously an essential topic, how to get a small business loan. You are, as I mentioned, USA Today's small business columnist. You're also a Small Business Community influencer for Bank of America, and you talk to a lot of small business owners and I suspect that questions about how to get a loan is often one of the things they ask you.

 

Steve Strauss:           You bet. In fact, a couple years ago I even wrote a book on this very subject called Get Your Business Funded, because the good news is there are really a lot of different ways to get the money that you need for your business.

 

                                  The best and most obvious is to get a bank loan, as we're going to talk about today, but there are others like crowdfunding and microfinance, even business-owned competitions that people aren't as aware of. But the good news is, there is money out there for you to start running and grow your business.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So, of these first six steps, what's number one?

 

Steve Strauss:           Number one is you want to create a relationship with your banker before you ever go get a loan. In fact, what I really want people to know is banks want to lend to you. They want to lend to you. That's their job. That's their business. That's their business model.

 

                                  So, your job is to make their job easier, and the first way to do that is as I said: create a relationship with your banker. So before you ever go into the bank with your loan package, instead go into the bank and meet your small business banker.

 

 

                                  For example, Bank of America, who I do a lot of work with, who you mentioned, a couple years ago hired more than 1,000 small business bankers, and they're there to help you understand the banking process, understand the loan process, and understand what your loan package needs to have and how your business needs to look in order for you to get the funding that you need.

 

 

Gregg Stebben:         I think what you said about it being the business of business banking to make loans is a really important point to make, because I think sometimes people feel like it takes luck to get a loan, but they're actually in the business of doing it, and that's an important thing to remember. So that's step number one. What's step number two?

 

Steve Strauss:           Step number two is to understand how much money you need realistically. It's kind of like Goldilocks' porridge. You don't want it to be too little because then you're going to end up with a capital crunch before you even start. You don't want it to be too much because the banker who is well-versed in finances and books and spreadsheets will understand that you're asking for too much money and that's not what you want to do.

 

                                  So you really need to think thoroughly through what it is you're trying to do, how much money you need to do what it is you want to do, and then go in with a loan package to ask for that proper amount.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So, I've done that. What is step number three?

 

Steve Strauss:           Number three is to get your personal credit in order. It going to be very unlikely that you're going to be able to go in and just on the basis of your business get a business loan, at least if you're fairly new to business. Often a bank is going to want to see a personal guarantee on the part of the principal, and so you want to make sure that your personal credit score is about 700, that your debt to income ratio isn't out of whack, that you have a great credit history, that you have a history of paying your debt back in time, on time, and in full.

 

 

                                   They're also going to want to know how long you've been in business and what your cash flow is like. But make sure that you get your personal credit in order so that if you need to give a personal guarantee or if you need to give collateral even you can do both of those things.

 

Gregg Stebben:         We're talking with Steve Strauss about the six steps to get a small business loan. Steve, what is step number four?

 

Steve Strauss:           Step number four is the one that we kind of talked about at the beginning. Now get your loan package ready. You've met with the banker, you know how much money you need, you have your credit in order, then you do number four, which is prepare your loan package.

 

                                  You have to include your financials, projections, a business plan, leases, contracts, personal financial information. You're going to put all of that together in a package that you're going to give to the bank.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Now, Steve, I'm really curious about steps five and six, because I would have thought we were done after number four when we got our loan package together. So, what's number five?

 

Steve Strauss:           Five is an easy one, which is, you know, you submit and you wait. You may wait a day. It just depends on what kind of loan you're trying to get. It may be that you have to wait for a couple weeks for underwriting to do their job. But you're going to submit and then see what happens.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I would imagine that if we did step number one correctly, which is create a relationship with our banker, then step number five, waiting, is a lot easier because we have someone we can go back to and check in with and say, "Is there anything else you need? How do you think we're doing? Do you think we're making the right kind of progress?"

 

Steve Strauss:           Bingo. So instead of going in blind and hoping for the best you're going in with your eyes open and expecting the best.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yes, and having an advocate on our side.

 

Steve Strauss:           That's right.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Okay. So we're talking about how to get a business loan. We've now submitted our loan package, we're waiting to hear back from the bank. Let's just say because we did everything else correctly that we've now got our loan. What is step number six?

 

Steve Strauss:           Number six is to repay it in full and on time, and even better, early. I mean the secret to getting an even bigger and better loan next time, meaning better rates, better terms, that kind of thing, is to be a good borrower. So, that means paying it back early. It means that you've done everything that you're supposed to do.

 

                                   And if you do those kind of things, then you're going to have established yourself and your business as being credit worthy, and once that happens then the bank is going to want to work with you even more, and you're going to want to grow your business, and you're going to get another loan, and you're going to grow your business, and you will have created a great relationship and one that allows you to have the capital that you need accessible, and that's really is what makes a big difference for so many small businesses.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I love the sound of having a bank want to work with me even more.

 

Steve Strauss:           Right.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So, let's walk through those six steps again really quickly as a recap. Step number one, start creating a relationship with your banker right now before you're ready to apply for a loan. Step number two, figure out how much you need, not too much, not too little. You got to figure out what the right amount is, and of course, if you have a relationship with your banker you can get some help there I would imagine.

 

Steve Strauss:           Correct.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Step number three, get your personal credit in order because that's probably going to be a factor here. Step number four, prepare your loan package, which leads to number five, submit and wait. And step number six, probably the most important because we do want the bank to want to work with us again the future ... Step number six, repay the loan back in full, on time, even early, because that will make it clear that you are a great business to lend to next time.

 

                                   Steve, thanks for the great advice and steps for how to get a business loan. Where can our listeners go to find out more about you and get more of your great advice for small businesses?

 

Steve Strauss:           Sure. You can always find me at my personal website, which is MrAllBiz.com. You can find me at USA Today, and I would also suggest that you come over to the Bank of America Small Business Community. They have lots of great information, articles, videos, tips, other experts, and you can find a lot of great, great stuff right there.

 

Gregg Stebben:          As Steve mentioned, a great place to go for advice in addition to his website, USA Today, and of course checking out his best-selling book, The Small Business Bible. Visit the Bank of America Small Business Community. It's at BankofAmerica.com/SBC.

 

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

 

 

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Are you leveraging the right tools and marketing methods for your small business? On this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Mari Smith shares her top tips to master Instagram marketing.

 

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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.

 

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

Here’s your host, Gregg Stebben.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Welcome to "The Heartbeat of Main Street" brought to you by ForbesBooks and Bank of America. Mari Smith joins us to talk about marketing your business on Instagram. Mari is often called the Queen of Facebook marketing. Facebook, of course, owns Instagram. IBM recently named Mari one of seven women who are shaping digital marketing, and she is a Forbes perennial top social media power influencer.

 

                                  Mari, thanks for joining us.

 

Mari Smith:                Oh, you bet. Happy to be here.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Mari, you are the author of The New Relationship Marketing and also Facebook Marketing: An Hour a Day, and you are a columnist for Bank of America. Could you take a guess at how many small businesses should be marketing themselves on Instagram, but aren't?

 

Mari Smith:                Okay, so I happen to know that there are two million advertisers using Instagram stories ads, and if I were to guess how many are not using Instagram with their stories or not, I'm going to say probably like at least a million.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So, if we're not using Instagram for marketing right now, what's the best way for us to get started, today?

 

Mari Smith:                Sure. One of the quickest ways: of course, you've got to have an Instagram account.  Go into your settings, link your Instagram account to your Facebook account, and then you'll be able to cross-purpose and cross-post. It makes it much easier to put your content in both places, especially for stories. I'm going to recommend that'll be the number one place to start — focus more on publishing stories, and that's the little circles at the top of your Instagram account that are getting some incredible attention. There’s actually 500 million daily active users right now on Instagram stories.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So, we've talked about how many businesses aren't using Instagram, but probably should be. We've talked about companies who aren't using Instagram, but realize they should be, and how to get started today. What if I'm already using Instagram, but I know I could be, or I should be, doing a better job there. What's the most important thing for me to do today to make my business more attractive on Instagram and to reach more customers?

 

Mari Smith:                The number one thing I'm going to say here is consistency. It's to make sure that you're publishing on-brand, good messaging, vibrant visuals and short videos, and for the story format, because it's just super easy to create short — it's ephemeral, meaning it disappears, and it appears top of mind. Top of mind, top of feed. Ideally, for consistency, I would say one story a day, if you can. Ideally even three. If you can get up to three stories a day, you're off and running.

 

Gregg Stebben:         She is Mari Smith and I'm guessing that if we come find you on Instagram we're going to find a great example of how we should be using it for our businesses, too. Tell us how to find you on Instagram, Facebook, and of course your website as well.

 

Mari Smith:                You bet. So, on Instagram, I'm @Mari_Smithand I do want to mention the Bank of America Small Business Community online, I have written numerous articles on Instagram marketing and stories as well, so they can find out more over there.

 

                                  And then, Facebook, on Facebook.com/MariSmith and marismith.com.

 

Gregg Stebben:         And Mari Smith is M-A-R-I Smith, S-M-I-T-H. Mari, thanks so much for joining us, and for more great tips from Mari and other small business experts, check out Bank of America's online Small Business Community at bankofamerica.com/SBC.

 

Automated:                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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Ensure your business is growing and earning customers by experimenting with new marketing methods. On this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Steve Strauss shares his top three tips to attract new customers and get your business in front of new eyes.

 

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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. And here's your host, Gregg Stebben.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” brought to you by ForbesBooks and Bank of America. Steve Strauss joins us with a few quick tips for attracting new customers. Steve is USA Today's small business columnist. He's the author of 17 books, including the best-selling Small Business Bible. Steve, thanks for joining us.

 

Steve Strauss:           Gregg, great to be here.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Steve, you own a small business, and in your capacity as USA Today's small business columnist, and also as a Small Business Community influencer for Bank of America, you also talk with a lot of small business owners. They must ask you all the time, "What can I do to get more new customers?" So what's the number one tip you offer when someone asks?

 

Steve Strauss:           My number one tip is also my number two tip and my number three tip. And that is this: market your business, and then market it some more, and then market it some more. Look, we go into business. We have a marketing idea. It works. It keeps us around for a little while. We get some customers. The problem that so many small business owners have is they learn one trick or two tricks and that's it. They don't expand beyond that.

 

                                  But if you're going to really grow your business, then what you really need to do is get your business in front of new people. New eyeballs. New ears. So the way you do that is by marketing your business in all sorts of different ways. Instead of doing the same thing that you've done for years and years, whether it's a stall at the Saturday market or an advertising campaign that works. What I would suggest is you come up with three or five different kinds of things that you can do. Find some guerilla marketing strategies that make sense to you and implement those. What that is going to do is get your business in front of new people.

 

                                  If you get in front of enough new people, some new people are going to become your customers. You do your job great, you offer great service, you offer great prices, great customer service, and then those new people will become regulars. That's exactly what we want.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Steve, I want to mention here. You use the term guerilla marketing, and I want to make sure everyone listening is aware that that's actually a series of books by a gentleman by the name of Jay Conrad Levinson. And it is actually - in addition to Steve's book, The Small Business Bible- Guerilla Marketing, that book series is a great place to go and get ideas for things to try you have not tried before. And to break down that barrier of thinking, "Oh, well what I've done in the past has worked. Now it's time for me to do something else."

 

                                  I want to move on to tip number two, Steve, because as you alluded to, it's easy to keep doing the same thing over and over again, although in reality those things tend to lose their potency over time. And at the same time, the world around us and technology is changing so fast. How do I keep up, so I know I'm going to where my new customers are, even if it's, for instance, some new social media website that I've never even heard of before? How do I make sure I've heard of it so I know that I should be using it?

 

Steve Strauss:           Let me preface this, Gregg, with saying I've lived this. My first business was my own law firm back when I practiced law. The way I got my customers was that I would put on seminars to the public. I would advertise them in the newspaper, to really date myself, and then people would come in to the Holiday Inn for the day and then for the next six months I would have customers. And that worked for me for years and years, until one day it stopped working. And you know why? It was because it was what you said. It just wasn't fresh anymore. People had seen it. It was stale. So I had to start trying some new things. And that's what I think any smart business has to do.

 

                                  The great news is, it doesn't cost you a lot these days to market your business. Technology is amazing, and one of the amazing things for small business insofar as technology goes, is that there are all sorts of tools out there that allow us to market our business, to get in front of these new eyeballs that I mentioned, without spending a whole lot of money. So it could be content marketing. You create some articles or videos related to your business with a link to your website. People find it, see it, share it. You're getting people that way.

 

                                  Or what if it's a pay per click? You create a little Google ad or an ad on Facebook and someone sees a nice little ad. People who don't know your business but loves your ad, they'll click on it. And what's great about that is you don't pay for that ad until they click on it. So that's really beautiful.

 

                                  Or search engine optimization. SEO it's called. You create some webpages on your website that are specifically designed to sell whatever your product is, and then you get it out there. And that's going to be almost free customers, because SEO builds and builds over time. It could be your social. It can be your e-newsletter. The point is there are lots of different ways to do this marketing that I mentioned up front. So the good news is there are just so many ways now to do this marketing that I suggested up front, and none of them really cost you a whole lot of money. They'll take a little time, but they're going to pay out big in the end.

 

RELATED CONTENT: Learn why local SEO matters more than ever.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Steve, I want to ask about one last thing. And that is, it seems to me that one thing we have not talked about here is if you want to reach new customers, one way to know who they are and where they go is to talk to your existing customers. Where do they go? What do they do? Who do they know? And how can I motivate them to actually become my sales force for me?

 

Steve Strauss:           Well, word of mouth. You are preaching to the choir, my brother. I grew up in a small business family and my dad owned at one point 20 carpet stores. Then eventually went down to one giant carpet warehouse. He really had a lot of experience. And in that carpet warehouse he had a banner that said, "Our word of mouth advertising starts with you." That was the essence of his 20 years of experience as a very successful entrepreneur. So word of mouth works, because it is people talking to people about something, an experience they had that's good, hopefully, and that's what people trust.

 

                                  But these days, word of mouth really is word of click. I've been talking about all these digital ideas. When someone retweets your tweet, well that's word of mouth. Isn't it? It's word of click. When someone likes your Facebook page, that's word of mouth. It's someone saying to the rest of the world, "Hey, this is a valuable thing that I like that you should like."

 

RELATED CONTENT:Learn from Mari Smith how to increase authentic reviews on Facebook.

 

                                  When someone takes your e-newsletter and forwards it on to someone else, that, again, is word of click and word of mouth. So today it's not just one person talking to one person. It's one person talking to a thousand. And for small business people, that's an incredible opportunity.

 

                                  One thing I would suggest is ask for it. Ask people to retweet, and ask people to give you a good review. Ask people to give you a like. People want to be nice. People will do it, and if you do your job right, they'll help you. You're going to get a lot of word of mouth and a lot more business as a result.

 

RELATED CONTENT: Rieva Lesonsky explains how to boost positive online reviews and deal with those pesky bad ones

 

Gregg Stebben:         Really well said. Okay, I want to recap what Steve said here. We're talking about ways to find new customers for your small business. Tip number one, Steve said market, market some more, market some more, market some more. Try new things. Don't just keep doing the same things you've been doing over and over again, because eventually those things are going to go stale. Meanwhile, there's all kinds of new avenues for you to try and succeed with.

 

                                   Number two is to think about digital marketing. Using things like SEO, pay per click, e-newsletters. And I think part of what you're suggesting, Steve, is experiment and just try things to find out what works.

 

Steve Strauss:           Absolutely. Yep.

 

Gregg Stebben:         And number three. Never forget about word of mouth marketing, or as Steve called it, word of click. Don't forget about the power of your existing customers. Where do they go? What do they do? These are good clues for where to get new customers. And ask them to help you market your business. If they're satisfied, they should love sharing information about your business with their friends and family.

 

                                   Steve, these are great tips. Where can our listeners go to find out more about you and to get more of your great advice for small businesses?

 

Steve Strauss:           You can go to USAtoday.com and find my column, Ask an Expert. You can go to my website which is mrallbiz.com. Or I would really suggest go to the Bank of America Small Business Community. I write there. There's a lot of other influencers who create some great content there. Articles, videos, podcasts like this. And you can find anything you need to take your business to the next level.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Steve just mentioned Bank of America's online Small Business Community. It's at bankofamerica.com/SBC. Steve, thanks for joining us.

 

Steve Strauss:           Gregg, keep up the great work. Thanks 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.

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