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An example of small business growth momentum is Bank of America client Barebottle Brewing Co., a San Francisco-based craft brewery energizing a passionate community of beer enthusiasts to bring a unique business model to life…

 

Mike Seitz, a co-founder of Barebottle Brewing Co., started making his own beer back in 2008. Inspired by the historic brewing culture of Cincinnati, Seitz teamed up with friend and fellow Cornell University graduate Lester Koga to turn a passion for beer into a business venture.

 

By July 2016, after years of comprehensive planning, research and participation in beer competitions across the country, Seitz and Koga had relocated to San Francisco, building out a former warehouse to serve as the brewery headquarters and a public taproom, and officially opened the doors of Barebottle Brewing Company.

 

Bolstered by a unique business model — Barebottle releases up to five new beers each week without a flagship beer — Seitz and Koga focus on building a brewing community in the Bay Area, encouraging customers to submit recipes and even try their hand at brewing beer at home.

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“Brewing is a very cool community to be a part of. It’s one of the oldest industries to work in — and also one of the most personally rewarding and enjoyable,” Seitz said. “No one really takes themselves too seriously, and they’re all willing to share.”

 

With 12 employees and over 400 beers produced in just under three year, Seitz and Koga are now turning their sights toward expansion, targeting a second taproom in the Santa Clara area. While beer will still be brewed in the original Barebottle location, the rapid success and popularity allowed the duo to expand their footprint.

 

“We’re lucky that we’ve been so successful with an expanding team to be able to open a second taproom,” Seitz said. “In order to continue to have that one-to-one relationship with consumers, this is an important step for us.”

 

Bank of America is committed to providing entrepreneurs with solutions to ignite and accelerate their potential, providing access to capital, mentoring, education and training through our business and partnerships.

 

Check out our other client spotlight videos:

 

Dr. Julia Harper, Founder of TheraPeeds Family Center

Denise Shelton, Founder and CEO of Community Bridge, Inc

Rachel Estapa, Founder and CEO of More to Love Yoga

 

Learn more about the Preferred Rewards for Business.

 

Video Transcript:

 

What inspires me are flavors and being able to integrate them in ways that hopefully no one's ever experienced before.

 

At Barebottle, every beer that we brew has a new idea, and it's always fun seeing people's reactions. We brew to share.

 

Title: Lester Koga

Co-founder and Head Brewer

Barebottle Brewing Company

 

I'm Lester Koga, and I co-founded Barebottle Brewing Company with my friend, Mike Seitz.

 

Title: Michael Seitz

Co-founder and President

Barebottle Brewing Company

 

Lester is one of my oldest and best friends. He and I started as homebrewers. We decided we want to do this because we love it.

 

Barebottle Brewing Company is a craft brewery located in San Francisco. We focus on innovation and coming out with new beers all the time.

 

This is such a community-based business. So on the back of every label, we actually include the home brew recipe. It's all about sharing information and creativity.

 

We want to make sure that we never lose sight of that passion.

 

Running your own business, it's just a huge responsibility. That’s your livelihood. Bank of America has been a great partner with us basically since the beginning.

 

Bank of America has done a really good job of demystifying the whole process of small business banking, small things like automatic check deposits, but also on the large side of access to capital, access to loans. They’re always finding ways to help us understand our financial needs and plan for them.

 

Bank of America has been essential to our growth. We're going to be opening our second location down in Santa Clara.

 

The positive vibe that people have being here is just so rewarding and I’m really excited to bring that to more places.

 

We would like the power to make an idea a reality and add to the community.

 

Disclosure: 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. Equal Housing Lender. © 2019 Bank of America Corporation

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Staying zen in the early days of a small business startup can be tough. Steve McGrath, owner of YogaSource, knows first-hand the tools required for successful organic growth. On this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” stretch your mind and learn tips every small business should know when expanding.

 

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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. Here's your host, Steve Strauss.

 

Steve Strauss:           Today we're speaking with Steve McGrath, owner of YogaSourcein Los Gatos, California. YogaSource is the largest and most-awarded yoga studio in Silicon Valley. Independently owned since 2002, the studio offers 130 weekly yoga, Pilates, and revolution cycle classes with world-class teachers.

 

                                  Steve, great to have you with us.

 

Steve McGrath:         Thanks very much. Great to be here.

 

Steve Strauss:           So, let's start at the beginning. Why don't you tell us a little bit about YogaSource?

 

Steve McGrath:         My wife, Linda, opened the studio in March 2002, and thankfully we met through yoga shortly after that. I became involved in the business pretty much that way, really supporting her dream and her entrepreneurial drive. I manage a lot of the day-to-day maintenance of the studio, the development of the business, the marketing, and a lot of the things that are often not quite so easy to manage, which is the customer service elements of the business, and of course the maintenance and literally keeping the business running.

 

Steve Strauss:           Tell me a little bit about the early days of YogaSource. How did you grow it? How did Linda grow it when she started, because the start-up phase is always challenging for people.

 

Steve McGrath:         She opened the studio as a young 24-year-old. Went out and got an SBA loanand started from scratch. I came along about six or eight months later and was immediately involved in the studio. We sat in a very small space. We had 800 square foot practice space. We could fit 28 people maximum, literally kind of mat to mat.

 

                                   Like any small business, we grew organically. Small classes became medium size, and we got 10, 12 people. Then a few months later we had 15, 20 people. And eventually after a couple of years, the classes were packed, and we added more classes. We added more styles of yoga, and then of course expanded into the larger and larger spaces over time and moved the business into a bigger location.

 

                                  Despite our size now, we're still looking for opportunities to grow. We're about to open a second location in Morgan Hill, thanks in large part to the support of Bank of America and the SBA.

 

Steve Strauss:           Nice.

 

Steve McGrath:         Yeah, you know it's sort of that classic organic growth story. We don't take credit for all of it, of course. It always frustrates me when you hear business people describe themselves as geniuses when they've taken advantage of what sort of market offers.

 

Steve Strauss:           One of the things I love about what you're doing is you do something that I suggest to small business owners often, and that is to create multiple profit centers. Mainly you have one way of making money in your business, but what great businesses do is they create a second and a third way so that when one part of your business is down, the other is up, and vice versa.

 

                                  It seems to me that's what you've done at YogaSource. You started with yoga. Now you have Pilates. You had one location. Now you're going to have one in Palo Alto and one in Los Gatos, so you are definitely creating multiple profit centers. Has that been a conscious decision on your part?

 

Steve McGrath:         Yeah, it has, and actually there's even more elements to it within that matrix of the business. If you look at our business, in the early days we had that very small location. When we were considering moving to a larger location, we wanted to look and say, "What are the aspects of this experience that we're delivering at this small location that we can take and we can move across to the larger space?"

 

                                   And one of the things we had a few lines of clothing that we were custom making for ... you know, t-shirts and yoga pants. We thought, maybe if we included a bit of retail, we could really benefit from that, and so we built retail into our model into our next location, our second step, as it were in expansion. And what retail allowed us to do was it allowed us to differentiate from all the other yoga studios around because back in 2005 when we expanded, most yoga studios were a case where you sort of roll up to the door of the studio and your instructor comes huffing and puffing around the corner on their bike and says, "Sorry, guys. Sorry, guys. I'm late. Let me just open the doors for you."

 

Steve Strauss:            Right.

 

Steve McGrath:          And it's not a great experience. Where we are in Los Gatos, there's a very high expectation of a very high quality service, and so we said, "well, we need to keep the doors open all the time—we need to have staff on location all the time." And one way to pay for that is by having a retail store, so a retail component to the business where the profitability of the retail can help the business, but it also can pay for those employees who are at the front desk selling, and they happen to be always there to check into classes.

 

                                  So we immediately approached Lululemon, which is one of the ... at the time was the brand in yoga apparel.

 

Steve Strauss:          Sure.

 

Steve McGrath:         And asked to be a distributor, and we are now their largest distribution partner worldwide.

 

Steve Strauss:           Wow.

 

Steve McGrath:         They partner with yoga studios and gyms with a very limited line of clothing, and we currently are their largest partner worldwide to sell their basic black yoga pants. So it's been very successful for us.

 

                                   We've also developed other revenue opportunities. We have a very well-developed retreat program where we take people to exotic destinations like Tulum near Cancun. We go to Bali. Linda takes a yoga and art retreat to Paris. This year we're going to Florence, Italy, where she takes people to do yoga in the morning and do art visits in the afternoon with a guide from someone who is a practitioner at the studio.

 

                                   In addition to that, we are a teaching institute. So we are an approved teaching institute by the Yoga Alliance, who are the governing body for yoga, which basically means we have the ability to run training programs to educate students and teachers in our own style, empowering them to become yoga teachers themselves.

 

                                   So we have lots of streams of opportunities and revenue parts of our business.

 

Steve Strauss:           That is definitely multiple profit centers.

 

                                   I'm wondering if you could give us two or three tips about what's worked in your business that you think other small business owners could learn from. What might they be?

 

Steve McGrath:          I think, number one, I would say to people focus on the experience that you're delivering for your client. Many small businesses get caught up in what their competitors are doing, which is a natural tendency, but I think you really need to focus on the experience that you're delivering.

 

                                  We, early in our process ... we took kind of a page from my experience with marketing at HP where you look at the customer experience. How are people aware of your studio? How do people select your studio to visit? What is their experience when they walk in the door the first time? How do they continue to sign up and experience classes? And as they develop in their experience, how do you continue to inspire and challenge them and deliver that experience?

 

                                   And so, focusing on all the elements of that experience and literally going through an exercise of documenting how you want people to talk about your business in each part of that experience will help you build out that experience. And don't worry about competitors. If you are doing the right thing with your experience, then people may go, but they'll come back if you're filling their needs.

 

                                  The second thing I'd say is don't be scared of taking calculated risks. Look for those trends in your market. We saw yoga developing as an exercise modality and took some risks to expand into that bigger space. That helped us double or triple almost overnight. We tripled our business by adding more classes in a bigger location. We added a second practice space so we could have multiple classes at the same time.

 

                                   And I think the third tip I'd say is if possible, as soon as you can, invest in real estate. Be your own landlord. Try and avoid that burden of paying someone else rent and investing in their property. Try and own your own building or your own location as early as you can.

 

Steve Strauss:           Steve, if you could do anything different, if you could talk to yourself or your wife back in 2002, anything you might suggest that you've learned along the way?

 

Steve McGrath:          I think it's really important to acknowledge your weaknesses and look for support where you need them. If you're an artistic, creative, extroverted, big-picture type personality ... I mean, that's terrific, and if that's the business you're in and that suits your business, that's great.

 

                                   But don't be shy to find people who can keep your feet on the ground. Find a good business advisor to help you on those sort of boring accounting kind of business decisions. Balance is very, very important.

 

Steve Strauss:           Steve, if listeners want to find out more about you or your business, where should they go?

 

Steve McGrath:          Just go to YogaSourceLosGatos.com.

 

Steve Strauss:           YogaSourceLosGatos.com.And I also want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to work not just in your business, but on your business. So keep up the great work. And for more great small business tips, check out Bank of America’s online small business community at BankofAmerica.com/SBC. That’s BankofAmerica.com/SBC.

 

                                  For Bank of America and ForbesBooks, I'm Mr All Biz, Steve Strauss.

 

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

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A small business credit card can be a smart starting point for businesses and entrepreneurs to establish a financial identity. Learn how your small business can get the most out of credit cards 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. Here’s your host, Gregg Stebben.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. Today, we're going to talk about small business credit cards. Are there benefits to having a credit card for your small business that you don't know? We're joined by Rieva Lesonsky. She's one of the influencers at Bank of America's Online Small Business Community at bankofamerica.com/sbc, and she's also President and Founder of GrowBiz Media and smallbizdaily.com. Also, with us is Kevin Condon. He's the Head of Consumer Deposits and Small Business Products at Bank of America. Thank you both for joining us.

 

                                   This is really such a fascinating topic, because we all know about personal credit cards. We all have them, but I'm not sure small business owners always stop and appreciate what additional value a credit card for their small business can have for them. So, let's start with this Rieva. If I'm a small business owner, why should I get a small business credit card? And I guess that's really two questions. First, what will a small business credit card let me do that a personal card won't, and how is a small business credit card different from my personal credit cards?

 

Rieva Lesonsky:        That's such a great question, Gregg. The basic bottom line of this is, you need to lead two separate financial lives as a business owner. You have to have your business life and your personal life. So, a small business credit card is going to act as the separation between that. It's going to help you establish your business identity. It's going to help you build business credit history. If you ever want to get a loan in the future, you need to have a business credit history, not a personal credit history.

 

                                   A credit card, a business credit card, is going to help you do that. It's going to help you keep track of your business expenses, so you know what you can write off at tax time. And it's going to give you access to money when you need it, kind of like a business line of credit, but it's easier to get. And I think that thing that people don't understand the difference says, “I'll just use a personal card and use it as a business,” but business credit cards come, often, with higher credit limits.

 

                                  That's, like I said, a line of credit, so you can spend more money. They help you build that credit history, like I said. And, if you have employees, they help you keep control on employee spending. You can give your employees cards, look for an issuer that gives you employee cards for free, and you can set limits on those employee cards. So, any travels, they may have a higher limit than an employee with a card who's just there to buy the office expenses.

 

Gregg Stebben:         And it also lets you see, in almost real time, exactly what they're spending money on. So, if there's a problem, you can stop it much faster. Those are really great points. Rieva, thank you.

 

                                  Kevin, you and I have talked about this before on the show, but I want to come back to it. I remember you telling us that, a great way to build credit and trust with the bank, if you ever want to take out a loan, is to start with a small business credit card, correct?

 

Kevin Condon:           That's right, Gregg. In banking, we refer to the five C's of credit frequently when we discuss credit with our clients. Those five C's are capacity, collateral, capital, conditions and character. A business credit card is a great way for you to establish that last factor of character. Now, when I'm talking about character, I'm really referring to your personal integrity, your industry experience, and your credit history. Yours, and the people closely tied to the success of your business, so the people on your teams, your partners, and so forth. A business credit card is a great way to demonstrate your trustworthiness, and your credit worthiness in the future to a bank while earning rewards on your purchases that are relevant to your business.

 

                                  Using that card to make sensible purchases, and paying off your balance in full, and on time every month shows us at the bank, that you have a track record of fiscal responsibility and you're a strong candidate for larger scale lending, such as a business line of credit in the future.

 

Gregg Stebben:         All of that's really perfect, and one of the things you mentioned, rewards. I just want to highlight that, you and I actually did an interview, and folks can hear it at forbesbooks.com/bankofamerica. We actually did an interview, specifically, about how to take advantage of the rewards tied to a small business credit card. Folks may want to go back and listen to that again, because there was some really good information there. Back to you, Rieva. I want to ask you about the kinds of things I should think about, or consider, when I'm looking for a credit card for my small business. What's important? What should I be considering here?

 

[Learn more about the Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card]

 

Rieva Lesonsky:        Well, the first thing you should look at is, does it make you pay a fee or not? Sometimes the fees are worth it, because you may get extra benefits. But there's a lot of business credit cards out there that you don't need to pay an annual fee on, and that really helps because you know you're saving money. Then you want to make sure that you match any rewards that you're getting with what you do. If you don't travel, if you maybe take two business trips a year, then don't get a travel rewards card. There's other cards out there that will give you some kind of reward, or bonus, based on what you do you.

 

                                   So, think about what you need. Do you need flexible payment options? Do you need travel protections, discounts, a cashback card? You want to make sure that there are tools to help you keep track of the expenses. Then, maybe, look for card with as low and APR as you can get. I know APRs are a little higher these days, but still look for a card that is giving you the lowest interest rates that you can get right now.

 

Gregg Stebben:         And you mentioned fees right up front, but, again, once you've evaluated what the rewards are, and how they're going to benefit you,that is the right time to then consider whether the fee actually makes sense for you. Are the rewards, or the benefits, so much greater than the fee, that it makes sense, or should you move onto a card that doesn't have a fee?

 

                                  Kevin, I want to ask you a question that assumes, now, we've listened to this much of this podcast. We've gone out. We've applied for our business, our small business credit card.Now we have it. What are some good practices we should keep in mind to make sure we're getting the most out of it? And, frankly, also making sure that we're staying out of trouble.

 

Kevin Condon:           A great question, Gregg. You know, being a responsible cardholder is really straightforward, if you follow just a few simple tips. First and foremost, make your payments on time every month. We all get busy, and distracted, and we've all forgotten, in our personal lives, about an upcoming payment at some point. But these days, there's plenty of tools at our disposal to make sure that that never happens. I'd recommend arranging automatic online payments from your checking account, or setting up email and text alerts, to remind you when those payments are due, so you won't miss a payment.

 

                                   Second, be conservative about the purchases you make on your card. Youshould never charge big purchases that you don't think you'll be able to afford to pay off, right now. And try to keep your balances below 10% of that credit line. Sometimes people fall into the trap of making purchases based on future income expectations, and if that income doesn't end up materializing, they can end up in some trouble.

 

                                   Next, just be practical. Monthly expenses like gas and office supplies for our businesses are great ways to build payment history without overextending yourself. Avoid those impulse purchases and splurges just because something goes on sale. Make sure you're being practical.

 

                                   Fourth, pay off your credit card in full each month, if you can. Making purchases and consistently paying our cards off, on time, can demonstrate to a bank that you can manage your payments, and keep your credit score healthy, which will allow you access to that line of credit we talked about earlier.

 

                                   And lastly, don't forget about making sure you're capitalizing on any rewards you may be eligible for. Gregg, like we talked last time, make sure you're layering those rewards. Making your purchases where there are loyalty rewards programs at specific merchants, taking advantage of those credit card rewards, and then any other rewards programs your bank may offer, so you don't leave money on the table.

 

[Discover valuable rewards that grow along with your business.]

 

Gregg Stebben:         You know what I really like about this is that, from what you're both describing here, a credit card for your small business, it really has benefits today - those sort of logistical benefits, that Rieva talked about. It can help you manage expenses, see where you're spending, see and control how employees are spending money -but there's almost a network effect here, as you described Kevin, because this can do all kinds of things for the future of your business. It can really help you build your credit, build a relationship with a bank, and do all kinds of other things, including maximizing the value of those rewards.

 

                                   I really want to thank you both for joining us. I've been talking with Rieva Lesonsky. She's one of the influencers at Bank of America's online Small Business Community at bankofamerica.com/sbc. She's also president and founder at growbizmedia and smallbizdaily.com. Grow Biz Media is at growbizmedia.com, as well. Kevin, Kevin Condon is the head of Consumer Deposits and Small Business Product for Bank of America. And for more great small business tips, check out Bank of America's online Small Business Community where you can see things from Rieva, and lots of other influencers like her. It's at bankofamerica.com/sbc. Thank you both for joining us.

 

Rieva Lesonsky:        Thank you.

 

Kevin Condon:           Thank you.

 

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

 

 

A passion to change lives and make an impact on at-risk communities drove Denise Shelton’s transition from Department of Corrections warden to CEO.

 

Shelton retired from the Washington, D.C., Department of Corrections in 2002 and formed Community Bridge, Inc (CBI). Her company was built “with the goal of empowering and rehabilitating local residents by providing viable, progressive employment and trade skills development.” Community Bridge is now a full-service facility management company that employs 200 people and services six wards in the District of Columbia.

 

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Starting a business that could serve as a legacy was critical to Shelton. Not only as something she could pass down to her daughter and grandchildren, but to have a lasting effect by empowering, teaching and supporting others. As a second-chance employer, Community Bridge is changing lives.

 

Shelton is CEO of CBI with her daughter, Shawn Nance, serving as President. Her grandson already has goals to continue the legacy by being Community Bridge’s CEO when he grows up.

 

Family has been the basis of CBI from the beginning. When Denise’s daughter joined the business early on, and after she gave birth to her second child, CBI had to get creative with their office space. And as such, the first CBI office was a “mommy van” that allowed Denise and her daughter to drive her children around while still having the ability to discuss the business and have meetings with one another.

 

Working with her mother has been amazing, says Nance.

 

“Denise Shelton to me is unstoppable. At the end of the day, she is my No. 1 partner.  She has changed the course of her life to make sure I was okay.”

 

 

 

 

 

Watch our other spotlight videos:

 

Video transcript:

 

Title: Denise Shelton, Founder & CEO, Community Bridge, Inc.


[Denise Shelton] Starting Community Bridge, it has been part of our mission to make sure that we change lives. We wanted to do something more than just open a business. We would hire directly from the jail to the community, so that's how we started out. Whoever we hired, we wanted to make an impact.

 

[Denise Shelton] Community Bridge is a full service facility management company, and we do snow removal, landscaping, and janitorial.

 

Title: Shawn Nance, President, Community Bridge, Inc.

 

[Shawn Nance] It started off with a parking space and a mommy van where we had meetings, because we didn't have a building. At that point, we had no roof, two lawnmowers and two contracts. We went having one truck and a trailer to going down to purchase four or five more trucks the next day, and all of a sudden, we, we had a business.


[Shawn Nance]Bank of America for Community Bridge started day one, that was part of the foundation.


[Denise Shelton] As a small business owner, it's very important that I have a bank that supports me, and Bank of America made that walk with us, and made it easier.


[Shawn Nance] The same people that gave us the opportunity when we didn't have anything are the same ones that are our partners today.


[Denise Shelton] I'm passing down this family business to my daughter, who's then going to pass it down to my grandsons.


[Shawn Nance] That's a huge responsibility, but it's one that she's prepared me for.


[Denise Shelton] When I see how she has grown, and her commitment and dedication to Community Bridge, it reminds me why we went in the business, and what's important.


[Shawn Nance] To see her as a woman, to see her as a business owner has been one of my joys in life.


[Denise Shelton] When we talk about a legacy, for me, something that's going to empower other people, and teach other people, and support other people, and I hope that it continues down through my legacy in generations. I have the power to build a legacy for my family.

 

Endpage:

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. Member FDIC. ©2019 Bank of America Corporation.

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As a small business owner, you will have problematic employees from time to time. Do you have the skills to steer a contentious situation to a productive conclusion? Steve Strauss shares his three-step approach to dealing with difficult employees 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. 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 how to deal with a difficult employee. Steve is USA Today's Small Business Columnist and the author of 17 books including the best-selling, Small Business Bible. Steve thank you for joining us.

 

Steve Strauss:           Great to be here, Gregg, and thanks for having me.

 

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, and today you are going to give us a three-step approach to dealing with a difficult employee. What's step number one?

 

Steve Strauss:           Well the first thing I think you need to do is listen. What you don't want to do is tune the bad employee out, which is I think what a lot of us might want to do, or maybe prefer to do. But what I know is that the best managers try and understand the disgruntled employee, get their point of view and try and see what can be changed. Then what you have to do is give some clear feedback and direction and expectations, and if I could put my lawyer hat on, you also need to document. So, listen, give correction, but then document. All three of those things are critical for sure.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Okay. So that's step number one. Step number two is…?

 

Steve Strauss:           Well you don't want to become part of the problem. You don't want to poison the well.  What that means specifically in this context is: don't gossip. As the manager, as the owner, as the boss you have to set an example, and you do the opposite of that by talking about the person, talking about the problem to other employees. My dad used to say, I'm your father not your friend, when I would get really sassy. And you know my dad was a great guy, but he was setting a clear demarcation point, right. There has to be some respect, and so I think that's true in the office as well. You need your employees to know that you are the boss not just another co-worker, and you do that by not gossiping about the problem employee.

 

Gregg Stebben:         In our conversation about how to deal with a difficult employee what's step number three?

 

Steve Strauss:           Well finally you want to make sure that you get to the core issue, so that it doesn't happen again. Now think about a giant ocean liner, how does that ocean liner change direction? Well you think the captain turns the rudder, and turns the wheel, the wheel turns the rudder, but actually there's a little mini rudder on the big rudder called a trim tab. So the captain turns the wheel, the wheel turns the trim tab, the trim tab turns the rudder, and then the rudder turns the ship. You have to get to that trim tab thing. What is the problem in your business specifically that you ended up with a problem employee. Now maybe it was you. I once hired an assistant, and the problem was me. It wasn't the assistant, it was that I didn't do a good job in my hiring process, and that was when I figured, okay I have to do better at that. So you have to look at your processes, your people, and figure out what the core issue was that allows it to fester and get out of control, and then fix that problem. We fix that problem and then you shouldn't have at least that issue ever again.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I want to try to recap what you just said. If you're dealing with a difficult employee three steps to try to manage the situation. Step number one, listen, try to understand, give clear feedback, and document what is going on.

 

Steve Strauss:           Correct.

Gregg Stebben:         Step number two, don't become part of the problem. No gossip to other employees, and always remember you are the boss, not a friend. Correct?

 

Steve Strauss:           Yep.

 

Gregg Stebben:         And step number three, get to the core issue and think about how an ocean liner changes course.It's big but there's some tricks like what Steve called the trim tab. And think about the processes that got you there including things like your hiring processes. How'd I do?

 

Steve Strauss:           Well what we want to do is hire people like you who are such good listeners, Gregg.

 

Gregg Stebben:         And good note takers, by the way.

 

Steve Strauss:           There we go.

 

Gregg Stebben          Steve 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 on my website, which is mrallbiz.com or go to USA Today, find my column, Ask an Expert. I've got a couple of tips and hints there too, I think.

 

Gregg Stebben:         And I will also just remind folks that you are the author of 17 books including the best-selling, Small Business Bible. And for more great tips from Steve and lots of other small business experts check out Bank of America's online Small Business Community at bankofamerica.com/sbc.

 

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

When Julia Harper, Ph.D., M.S., OTR/L, talks about her business, TheraPeeds Family Center, you can hear the passion in her voice and see the joy she gets from her work.

 

In her words, she was born to do this work. Born prematurely in Trinidad and Tobago and “sent home in a shoebox to die,” Harper instead not only survived, she thrived.  She believes she was ‘saved’ so that she could be an agent of change.  “I love change with everything inside of me.”

 

 

Harper, a Ph.D., began TheraPeeds in Brooklyn, New York, in 1999 and moved it to FL in 2004. At that time it was a one-person practice and her focus was to change the lives of children with processing disorders such as learning disabilities, attention problems and autism spectrum disorders. These disorders are caused by a deficiency in a person’s ability to use information gathered by their senses and can cause a plethora of issues including low self-esteem and social withdrawal.

 

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“I set out to change the outcomes kids were getting,” she said.  Twenty years later, she has over 55 employees and TheraPeeds attracts clients from around the world, mainly via word-of-mouth.  Instead of just treating children, now the TheraPeeds team treats the entire family and adults with processing disorders across the lifespan.

 

Her business has experienced spectacular growth, continually running out of space.  In March 2019, TheraPeeds relocated to a new 30,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility in Davie, FL.  Harper tells you her business isn’t expanding so they can treat more clients, they’re expanding so they can treat their clients better.

 

Today, Harper is not only an occupational therapist but also a wife, mother of two, business owner, psychologist, life coach, mentor, speaker and writer. Her work and personal presence is an inspiration to her social followers, but most importantly to the lives of those she touches every day. You can get your weekly dose of #VitaminJ by following @JuliaHarper_phd on Instagram.

 

 

 

More info: Introduction to Buying Commercial Property »

Commercial real estate loans from Bank of America.

 

 

Video transcript:

 

[Julia Harper] When you’re coming in this door. You’re coming in this door to change. We make sure that our clients leave with an outcome that is both functional, and life-changing.

 

[On screen copy] Julia Harper, PhD, MS, OTR/L. Founder and CEO, TheraPeeds Family Center  Bank of America Customer

 

[Julia Harper] My name is Dr. Julia Harper and I am the founder of TheraPeeds Family Center.

 

TheraPeeds is a center where we create change in the brains of people so that they learn to function better in their lives.

 

What I do as an occupational therapist is I focus on the entire life of a client. They get better motor skills, in their communication skills, in their cognitive skills, and their social-emotional behavior skills. Families come into this door functioning one way, and they leave functioning better.

 

So my intention was never to start a small business. I intended to be a therapist that did great work. The fact that a business grew up around me is still stunning to me today.

 

So we really think of this business as an individual with a life of its own. We think about it and we say, “what do we want this business to grow in to?”

 

I first met Marianela, my small business banker, when she walked into this door, because she wanted to see what we do here.

 

[On screen copy] Marianela Martinez, Small Business Banker, Bank of America

 

[Marianela Martinez] What makes Bank of America unique, is that we can come to our clients, to their place of business, to their environments, and bring the bank to them.

 

[Julia Harper] Marianela brought to the table the business perspective that I didn’t have.

 

[Marianela Martinez] So we partnered up with Julia, to help her forground-up construction for her new facility.

 

[Julia Harper] What I’m interested in doing now is providing deeper care to the entire family.

 

I love the fact that I’m in a sisterhood. That she’s a strong woman that showed up for another strong woman, to say yes, let’s do this.

 

The children, the families that we treat here, our people that need to know that they matter. And that my bank turned around and did the same for me meant the world.

 

[Marianela Martinez] As a mother, and thinking that she is helping families all over the world, it’s pretty amazing.

 

[Julia Harper] I have the power to be a change and help others change themselves.

 

[On screen copy] What would you like the power to do?

 

[On screen copy]

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Learn more: bankofamerica.com/BusinessAdvantage

 

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. Member FDIC  2019 Bank of America Corporation.

Small Businesses should leverage social media marketing to grow sales. Facebook marketing expert Mari Smith offers two essential tips all business owners should use in the latest podcast 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. 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 with two essential social media tips you can quickly put to work in your business today. Mari is often called the queen of Facebook marketing. IBM says she is one of seven women who are shaping digital marketing and she is a Forbes perennial top social media power influencer. Mari, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Mari Smith:                Thank you Gregg. I'm delighted to be here.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Mari, you are the author of The New Relationship Marketing and Facebook Marketing: An Hour a Day, and you are also a columnist for Bank of America. So you talk with small business owners about social media marketing every day. What are the two most essential social media marketing tips all small business owners should put to work in their businesses, literally today, right now?

 

Mari Smith:                Right now, I tell you what Gregg, the number one thing that I see small businesses doing incorrectly is not having crystal clarity on their target audience. So that's number one. When you get super, super clear on who you're wanting to reach, who your customer avatar or avatars are, that will go a long way to inform the type of content that you create, and your messaging, and then definitely your ad targeting. When you're doing your Facebook and Instagram ads, you want to be able to know who am I speaking to, what are their interests or demographics and so forth. Really, really critical.

 

                                   I would say number two is to focus on creating roughly 80% of your posts for Facebook as video content. Facebook is really favoring video content, and the good news is you don't have to be on camera if you don't want to. You can use tools and repurpose and reuse different videos and different formats and use them across other social channels. My favorite video tool is simply called wave.video. That's wave.video.

 

Gregg Stebben:         We know that if we go to your website, and to your Facebook page, and if we go to your Twitter account, we're going to see great examples. Tell us where we should go, your website address, your Twitter handle, your Facebook name, so we can come find you and learn more.

 

Mari Smith:                 Thank you so much. Absolutely. I'm marismith.com. On Facebook, it's facebook.com/marismith. Twitter is @marismith, and Instagram I'm @mari_smith, and as I like to say, just Google me.

 

Gregg Stebben:         By the way, just to add a fine point to that, Mari is M-A-R-I, Smith, S-M-I-T-H, Mari Smith. Mari, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Mari Smith:                My pleasure.

 

Gregg Stebben:         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.

 

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

 

 

Learn more about video marketing. Visit these articles on the Small Business Community.

Positive word-of-mouth reviews are a must for small business success. With thousands of followers and countless 5-star reviews, PSP Diesel in South Houston, Texas, understands the power of social media to drive business growth. In this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street," we discuss strategies for boosting your small business' online reputation.

 

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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’ Gregg Stebbens and Small Business Community Contributor, Steve Strauss. More information and previous episodes can be accessed through a dedicated home page and 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” at ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com. Here's your host, Steve Strauss.

 

Steve Strauss:           Art Martinez is the owner of PSP Diesel. Art is often described as being the best in his craft, and is praised for his honesty, professionalism, attention to detail, and great work. Their commitment to customer satisfaction is evident with countless five-star ratings and testimonials, and he's gonna teach us a little bit about how we can get some great reviews, too.

 

                                  Art, how did you become an entrepreneur?

 

Art Martinez:              It was in 2007, 2008 during the Financial Crisis. I did work for a dealership. Work had declined, and bills had to get paid. It started with one customer who was looking for quality work at a reasonable price, and we capitalized on that. We took that experience, we took care of the customer. We surprised him with our efficiency, our professionalism, and it grew. In about seven or eight years we've been in business and our current data, we hold about 4,800 customers year-to-date.

 

Steve Strauss:           Wow. That's so impressive. Why do you think people love coming to your business?

 

Art Martinez:              I think one of our biggest compliments that we get, Steve, at the shop, is our honesty and our professionalism. I believe that it shouldn't just be a transaction. It shouldn't be about profit. It shouldn't be about selling. It should just be about an overall experience. Creating a relationship with that customer and understanding their needs.

 

Steve Strauss:           Give us an idea about how big your business is now here 10 years later after you began. In a typical day how many trucks are you servicing? How many people work for you? What's the size of your business?

 

Art Martinez:              We've been showing since 2008 ... We've shown about a 25% growth. We started with one employee. There is a partner, Richard Alvarado, myself. We started with one employee, and eight and a half years later we have 14 employees, and we operate within a 20,000-square-foot facility. During a busy week we repair about anywhere from 25 to 35 trucks, ranging from a basic oil change, basic break job, to a full-on race build.

 

Steve Strauss:           I know that developing a digital presence has clearly been vital to your business. Can you tell us a little bit about your strategy from the get-go with regard to digital?

 

Art Martinez:              From the very beginning our strategy has been organic growth, word of mouth. I encourage my customers to recommend their neighbor. Their neighbor's gonna recommend the construction worker. It wasn't until about two and a half years ago that we really, really started focusing on social media and our channels. Why not? They’re free advertisement and in today’s age, we’re surrounded by that. We wanted to take that opportunity and post some pictures. Let the community know that we’re here and we’re here to help.

 

Steve Strauss:           You do have a lot of reviews, a lot of positive reviews online. Art, what’s your secret?

 

Art Martinez:              Steve, it’s really, really simple. Our strategy has been the same from the very first customer to our current customers now. People like honesty. People like to be treated fairly, and they want to be put in a certain situation where I said earlier, it's not just about profits. It's about creating an experience and understanding their financial needs. These trucks are used as mobile offices. The trucks are down, that means they're not making money.

 

                                   A lot of our clientele are rig welders, construction workers, and when these vehicles are down, they're not getting paid, they're not making money. It sometimes means going out of the box. Whether it's a loaner program, whether it's a ride to the airport, you're creating an overall experience. You back that up with an honest experience, a reasonable bill, and maybe a courtesy call after the job has been done, a review will follow.

 

Steve Strauss:           That last sentence is what I want to ask you about. Clearly the first part is you have to do five-star work if you want to get a five-star review, but how do you get people then to take their experience and go online and take the time to figure out where to write a review for you and then write a review for you? Do you ask them? Or are you saying it just happens organically?

 

Art Martinez:              No, it happens organically, but a key note question that I commonly ask my customers from first impression, from when we first meet, I shake their hand, introduce myself. "How did you find us? How did you end up here?" We don't have a store front. We operate within an industrial part of South Houston, which is a very small industrial community, so in order to find our shop, you're either on the internet, you're on Yelp, you're on Google, or somebody told you exactly where we're at. That's key to me. Why? I want to know. We don't want to invest a whole lot of money in advertisement.

 

                                   I mentioned earlier our biggest advertisement is word of mouth. The customer comes in and tells me that, why wouldn't he want to try our shop? We've got 145 reviews and they're all five stars, my direct approach is, well, that comes at a very high price because I can tell you just as much as we have really good experiences, we have bad experiences. This is probably gonna answer your next question, you must control a negative experience. We're in business. It's how you control it and how you make it right.

 

Steve Strauss:           Let's say somebody has a bad experience, because you're right that does happen in business, and they go online and they write a bad review about you. How you do handle that?

 

Art Martinez:              I can tell you year-to-date, Steve, I'm being completely honest, I don't think we've ever had a negative review posted on ... We've had customers call back and tell me their negative experience. I want to know what happened, who was involved, and how we're gonna make it right.

 

Steve Strauss:           Well, I know I can give some advice to people also with regard to negative reviews. I saw a study recently that said that companies that do nothing about their negative review, end up, of course, with a negative review. Those companies that go back in and find the reviewer and then write to the reviewer and say, "We're really sorry you had a bad experience. What can we do to help it?" They try and fix the situation, after that often not only will the reviewer be amenable to removing the review, but they actually become customers again. You can really turn by just doing what you say you do, a negative experience into a positive by doing great customer service. I'm sure that's been your ... kind of what you're saying as well.

 

                                  What do you think of asking customers to write you a good review?

 

Art Martinez:              I think it should be encouraged, definitely. In our lobby we do have signs, "Your Experience Matters." We do talk to customers about, "Hey, if the experience was positive, please ... your input ... we want to hear your input." We're listed on Yelp, Google. That's about it. We don't really influence anybody into reviewing the business. We believe if we're doing everything that we possibly can to make it a plus experience, that review will follow.

 

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

 

 

Learn more about how to boost positive online reviews for your business – and deal with those pesky bad ones – from Rieva Lesonsky. 

Mari Smith explains how to increase authentic business reviews on Facebook.

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Narrator:                         Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. This is part two of our interview with Sharon Miller about the Fall 2018 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report.

 

                                       Sharon is the Head of Small Business for Bank of America.

 

Gregg Stebben:              Sharon, I'm wondering, in the face of the competitive hiring environment that we're in, how is this impacting employers in terms of numbers? Are you hearing that, oh, we're literally losing this percentage of our workforce? We're trying to hire and it's taking us this long to get people. And then when companies, when there's a delay for companies to actually make the hires they need, what are they doing instead? For instance, are they turning to things like technology?

 

Sharon Miller:                 So, as far as the turnover, I mean we don't have the exact number for the overall turnover, but what we did report is within one year, at least 24 percent of small business owners have lost one employee or more. So we do know that. And 11 percent of small business owners said they lost 10 percent or more of their workforce. With 24 percent losing one, that's a quarter of all small business owners. We've got 29 million small businesses in the United States, so that's quite a bit.

 

                                        Now, some of them were let go, that's about 30 percent, some took a position at a larger company. About a quarter of them said that they took positions at a larger company. So, there's different reasons for people departing, and it's not to say that it's all because the employee decided to get up and leave...I mean, 30 percent were underperforming, so that business owner had to let them go. So that's one thing.

 

                                        So, we do know that the unemployment rate of 3.7 percent is the lowest it's been since 1969. We have an economy out there where it's tough. It's tough to attract and retain because employees can really have the pick of where they want to go, at least top talent. And so, with that being said, there's some shifting strategies out there by business owners. And some of that, to your point around technology, I would say that the thing that small business owners are modifying their strategy around, they're saying, "We want to give them more flexible work culture. Give people flex time." So, if you want to work 10:00 to 6:00 versus 8:00 to 5:00, you know, just giving them some different hours. Or maybe you work Monday through Thursday, take off Fridays. Those types of strategies, I've heard from business owners that they're doing a lot.

       

                                        Or letting them work from home. They don't need to come into the office. Social media, they're out there on social media trying to attract new talent to say, hey, here's what we're doing at our company, come to work, we're growing. We are continuing to innovate. And that's all very, very attractive to people coming to work and job candidates. So, there's some different strategies out there outside of just more money or more benefits, but at the heart of it, it does come down to dollars and cents, and we are seeing rising wages out there. We are seeing more business owners implement healthcare benefits or retirement benefits to attract the right employees.

           

                                        And so, these are all the conversations we're having with business owners every day.

Kate Delaney:                 Wow, fascinating. So talking about the flexible hours, working from home, etc. So, kind of piggybacking on that, Sharon, how else are small business owners rewarding, we'll say, employees, and then giving back to their communities during the holidays?

 

Sharon Miller:                  Well, the business owners out there, when they have the right employees, they're focusing on flexible hours, so that's one thing. Professional development, discretionary bonuses perhaps at the holiday season. Eighty-three percent of small business owners plan to offer perks during the holiday season. Maybe they're going to close the office, they may give a salary bonus, or they may give a holiday party.

 

                                        So, all of these things feed into that culture that small business owners and entrepreneurs are trying to really deliver for their local business, which spills over to the local community. And keep in mind again, Kate, the advantages of small business employment, it's powerful. You've got less bureaucracy, you got a more collaborative environment, you've got greater responsibility, creative freedom, all these things. A local community impact because small business is local, and that's really attractive.

 

                                        So I always remind our clients, yeah there's some things that we can continue to implement and get better every day, but don't forget about what it is at the heart you do, and the advantages you already have built in by being a small business.

 

Gregg Stebben:              We're talking with Sharon Miller. She's the Head of Small Business for Bank of America. We're talking about a lot of findings and statistics and information that comes out of their Fall 2018 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report.

 

                                        And you know, it's interesting that you mention local, Sharon, because one of the things that I found fascinating in the report is a map of the U.S., and you've called out some cities where there tends to be trends about how they're attracting and keeping people. So, San Francisco is most likely to offer flexible hours. In LA, they've had the easiest time finding qualified candidates to fill positions. In Chicago, they're most likely to say small businesses compete with larger companies for talent.

 

                                        I'm just curious if you have any thoughts on why different markets tend to use different things to attract and keep talent? Is there something culturally going on in those markets that we could also learn about, or do you think that within a business community, small business owners are talking about what's working and using what's working for others to help themselves?

 

Sharon Miller:                  I think it's both, and Gregg, you're right, I think because small business is local and it is a lot of word of mouth, and you also have people collaborating in local communities through different chamber organizations or just different events, you are finding that people are talking. I mean, business owners, they're going to their kid's soccer game and talking on the sideline about what's working, what's not.

 

                                        So, all of this sort of comes together in a community, and that's why we like to highlight it, because maybe someone in San Francisco doesn't know what's going on in Chicago, and we were able to highlight it, and that's also the power of Bank of America, because we do have a footprint across the entire country where we're able to give insights back to our clients to say, you know what, it might not work here, but it sure is working in Chicago. Would it hurt to give it a try?

 

                                        So, these are some of the benefits of working with a large institution that is national, but operates in 90 local markets. So, we're local enough to be able to have different focuses in our local markets, and that's how we run.

 

Kate Delaney:                 Wow, it made me think of something else, the power, of course, Sharon, of what you offer, what Bank of America offers. And let's say for example I'm in Boston and you see the success that they're having in San Francisco with the flexible hours, but we're not really doing that so much in Boston. Do you share that information and say, "Hey listen, here's some of the successes that we're seeing here, and some of the trends," because I would imagine they would gobble that up.

 

Sharon Miller:                  We do, and we just launched in four states our Business Advantage 360 program, and this is our...and it will be launched across the country in the first quarter...This is a very powerful digital capability, an online capability for business owners that's really going to change the way they manage their business, that they get insights into just this, that they're able to manage their cashflow.

 

                                        And so, not only is it through sitting down with our bankers in the 4,500 financial centers across the country where we have business experts, but it's also through our digital capabilities, and going online at BankofAmerica.com/smallbusiness, where you're able to not only access the report we're talking about today, but you're also able to understand what's going on. Different reports, different information for clients. We just launched the Bank of America Institute for Women's Entrepreneurship [at Cornell] because we know that women are a force to be reckoned with, for one, Kate, and I'm sure you can agree. And two-

 

Gregg Stebben:              I can agree, too. I can agree, too.

 

Sharon Miller:                 There you go, Gregg ... That we're opening businesses. I mean, when I sit down and I see the trends happening, businesses are being opened at twice the rate of men, by women, with half the capital. And so these are some of the issues we're seeing because we are a larger institution, and we're able to go out and solve some of these problems, or at least to help to solve them and partner up with universities like Cornell to get out the information on what, not just women, but all entrepreneurs, need to be thinking about.

 

                                        So, all of that is in our website. We've got a Bank of America Community. So yeah, either you want to read about it, you want to go into our financial center, sit down with a specialist, and to me, I would advise coming in, sitting down with a business specialist, because there's no more powerful interaction than that across the desk, because every business owner's unique, just like people, and that's where we're able to help with their priorities.

 

Kate Delaney:                 Sharon Miller, Bank of America Head of Small Business. Thanks so much, we appreciate it as always.

 

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

 

iTunes-Button.gif

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sharon Miller:             Thank you so much for having me.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Stay tuned for part II

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

Gregg Stebben:        Yes.

 

Roger Forman:          So owners really shouldn't-

 

Gregg Stebben:         Good and bad, right?

 

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

 

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

 

Roger Forman:          No, absolutely not.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

                                             Learn more about hiring  and rewarding employees:        

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Gregg Stebben:          I'm your new mentor.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Image result for tory burch foundationThe Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program, powered by Bank of America, aims to increase the number and grow the size of women-owned businesses in the U.S. by connecting women entrepreneurs to affordable loans. Loans are administered through community development financial institutions (CDFIs) that provide credit and financial services to underserved markets and populations.

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Steve Strauss:           Flexibility works.

 

John Purcell:              It sure does.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

John Purcell:               Yeah, absolutely.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Steve Strauss:            Fantastic. Keep up the great work.

 

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

 

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

 

 

Up next:

 

 

About Steve Strauss

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Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss.

 

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

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Season’s greetings from the Small Business Community!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Brent Tilson:                Absolutely.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yes.

 

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

 

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

 

Gregg Stebben:          It's a work event.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

                                                                     

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Steve:             Right.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Jessica:          Absolutely.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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