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Vetlinks.jpgOn this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” 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.

 

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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, Steve Strauss.

 

 

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

 

Jessica:           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 of 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:             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 past 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 affected 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.

 

Narrator:         For more great small business tips check out Bank of America’s online Small Business Community at bankofamerica.com/sbc. Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

 

Related resources:

Veterans Make Ideal Entrepreneurs: Here are the Resources You Need to Start a Small Business by Steve Strauss

“The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Episode 3: Exploring Veteran Entrepreneurship Part I

“The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Episode 3: Exploring Veteran Entrepreneurship Part II

See how Bank of America shows its support and commitment to veterans and their families.

  Learn more about the Bank of America $20 Million Lending Program for U.S. Military Veteran Entrepreneurs

As every small business owner knows, referrals from trusted connections or past customers are one of the best ways to get new business.

 

Building a strong local community network can help. Creating a local network has other business benefits as well. It provides a support system to encourage you and offer advice when you need it and exposes you to new ideas that can help grow your business.photo-of-people-doing-handshakes-3183172.jpg

 

How can you build a stronger business network in your local community? Here are three ideas.

 

1. Join local business organizations: Even if you’re already involved in national organizations such as your industry association, joining local business groups can have additional benefits. It doesn’t have to be an organization for your industry; the local Chamber of Commerce, leads club, Rotary club or other service organization are all great ways to meet other business owners, professionals and community leaders.

 

BNI, a worldwide networking organization, has a unique focus. Each local chapter allows only one member from each industry to join. Members focus on referring business to each other. Since you’re the only representative of your industry in your chapter, you won’t be competing with other members for customers or referrals. Also consider joining local organizations targeted to your own special interests, such as groups for women in business, Hispanic people in business or business owners under 30.

 

Can’t find such a group? Consider starting one. Whether you’re joining an existing group or starting one of your own, taking on a leadership role is the best way to get to know others and the most out of your membership.

 

Read next: Small Business Networking Plays Vital Role in Growth by Joel Comm

 

2. Get involved in a community-based social networking group: Sometimes it’s surprisingly hard to meet other business owners just down the street. After all, you’re both busy running your businesses, and if you’re in different industries, you may not belong to the same organizations.

 

That’s the problem Alignable, an online social network of over 4 million small business owners, was launched to solve. Joining Alignable is free and you can connect with other local business owners to get referrals, build relationships, spread the word about your business and get advice from your peers.

Townsquared is another free site that offers similar features to help small business owners make connections. If you’re already on LinkedIn, use it to search for other business owners in your area and get connected with them.

 

Many small business owners lack the time to physically get out and attend local business events. If that’s you, an online social networking group that’s focused on your local area is a way to accomplish many of the same goals without leaving your office.

 

3. Hold a networking event at your business: Often, the best way to meet other business owners is to make the first move yourself.

 

Get the addresses of local business owners in your area and stop by in-person to introduce yourself and invite them to a special event at your business where they can get to know lots of other local entrepreneurs. Hand out your invitations well in advance so you can plan for the appropriate number of people.

 

At the event, make it easy for people to network by planning some icebreaker activities or playing games. Provide refreshments, music and drinks to make it feel festive. Ask attendees to bring their business cards, share product samples, be ready to do a demonstration or otherwise find a way to bring their businesses alive to the others. Try holding a contest or giving prizes for the newest business, oldest business, most unusual business, etc.

 

If you’re having trouble finding local business owners to invite, you can try using Meetup, a social network that helps people connect for real-world activities.

You’ll never regret forming new relationships, and the beginning of a new year is the perfect time to do so. Start planning your community-building activities now and you can start 2020 off with more support than ever before.

 

About Rieva Lesonsky

 

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

 

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

 

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

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

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

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

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To celebrate women business owners, Bank of America and ForbesBooks took time to speak with small business experts at their recent panel event. Panelist Cate Luzio, founder and CEO of Luminary, created the female-focused collaboration space for professional women to network, develop, and connect.Tune in to this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street” for Cate Luzio’s entrepreneurial journey.

 

Listen next: Stories from the Spotlight, Part 1: Deepti Sharma & FoodtoEat

 

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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.

 

Transcript:

Narrator:                   Now, let's hear from Cate Luzio, founder and CEO of Luminary, the venue hosting the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owners Spotlight.

 

Kate Delaney:           We're at a very cool place, Greg, called Luminary.

 

Gregg Stebben:        That is very cool. Luminary.

 

Cate Luzio:               Yes.

 

Kate Delaney:           Yes.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Luminary. Who's here with us?

 

Kate Delaney:            Cate Luzio's with us. She is the founder of this place.

 

Gregg Stebben:         And CEO. Founder and CEO of Luminary.

 

Kate Delaney:            Yes. And she's a 20-year banker.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Before Luminary.

 

Kate Delaney:            Yeah.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yes.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yes.

 

Cate Luzio:                 I quit my job to do this.

 

Gregg Stebben:          So, I want to hear the whole story.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yeah.

 

Gregg Stebben:          How did you get here? Actually, you know what? Before you tell us that, tell us what Luminary is so people understand. I mean, we are in this  beautiful brick, I guess ... Is it loft-ish or a loft?

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yeah. Well, we're 15,000 square feet, so you guys have only seen one part. We've got a fitness studio, we have a beauty bar-

 

Gregg Stebben:          Oh, my gosh.

 

Cate Luzio:                  ... we have a dozen meeting rooms, we have a dozen phone booths, we're opening up our rooftop. It'll be open all year round.

 

Gregg Stebben:           Now, wait a minute. And I'm not invited. Well, no, I am invited.

 

Cate Luzio:                  No, men are absolutely welcome.

 

Gregg Stebben:           Oh, it is. Okay.

 

Cate Luzio:                  100%.

 

Gregg Stebben:           So, it's not a women-only co-working staff. Okay.

 

Cate Luzio:                 We're not. So, we are a female-focused collaboration space for professional women to network, develop, and connect. We're built on programming and content. So, we think of ourselves as here's a community gathering hub for women and male allies where you can come and learn, develop, and connect with other women, no matter if you're a banker, an entrepreneur, a yoga instructor, a teacher, really breaking down the silos that women face all over, no matter what profession they're in, especially for those that we’re trying to retain in the workforce, and then women entrepreneurs. So, we do workshops and courses, almost 20 a month.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Wow.

 

Cate Luzio:                 So, we've already done 150 this year. We've been open nine months. So that, whether it's professional and career development, small business entrepreneurial, personal wellness, and career changer and pivoters, we're supporting the woman, not a specific woman.

 

Kate Delaney:             Did you decide you were going to do this because you saw the need for women?

 

Cate Luzio:                 Very good question, Kate.

 

Kate Delaney:            Yeah. No man would have figured out that question.

 

Cate Luzio:                 No. You know, actually, I had this amazing career, 20 years. I spent a number of years at BofA, JP Morgan, and HSBC, and what I saw was that there were a lot of focus on the senior women and the junior women as they're coming in and as they have reached the top, but what about the pipeline. So, how do you invest in the pipeline of women in particular? Women are raising their hands all the time saying, "I want more. I want to do more. I want to learn more." So, how do we advance them into leadership roles in whatever they want to do so that we can change those numbers at the top that we keep hearing about? That's the gap. It's the same whether you work for a bank or you're an entrepreneur. How do you get access to the tools to develop yourself, to develop your business, develop your acumen?

 

Gregg Stebben:          It's interesting, Cate. In a way, that's a big focus of what Bank of America-

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yes.

 

Gregg Stebben:          ... is reporting in the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, which is why we're here. But I have kind of a two-part question for you based on what you just said.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Sure.

 

Gregg Stebben:          One is I want to know what the ramp up was for you to go from, "I'm committed," to actually opening the door.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yeah.

 

Gregg Stebben:          But on top of that, I'm just wondering, we're in this place right now, we call it the war for talent, right? Was that one of the factors for you, that companies are struggling so much to get great talent? Was that a piece of your thinking?

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yeah. So, I'll take that question first. I think companies have the talent, they're just not investing in the right way. So, we see so many recruiters out there, they give a woman a call or even a person of color or men, too, and say, "Hey, come to this great company." Well, are you looking in your pipeline? I've been doing this for nine months, right? We're open nine months. I still get calls from recruiters about banking jobs.

 

Gregg Stebben:          For you?

 

Cate Luzio:                 For me.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Hello? LinkedIn.

 

Cate Luzio:                 There's women right-

 

Gregg Stebben:          In your company.

 

Cate Luzio:                 ... in your company.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Which is, really, the bigger point here.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Absolutely. So, they're right there. In banking, if 51% of the workforce is women, how are we still saying there's not a CEO out there that's a woman for any of the big banks, right, the top Wall Street firms. Stop looking outside and look inside, right?

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yes.

 

Cate Luzio:                  Also, give opportunity. But I think-

 

Gregg Stebben:           And groom.

 

Cate Luzio:                  And groom.

 

Gregg Stebben:           But groom opportunity.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Really invest, right, and developing them. I think, to your point, where did I come from? I had a great conversation with a male mentor of mine in early 2018. I was still in my job. I quit. There's a long story behind that, but I quit. Then, a month later, I wrote a business plan for Luminary. I decided to self-fund it, so no outside investors because I wanted to build a community that was maximizing the value for our members versus an investor, and there's nothing wrong with taking on money. I had made a very good career and wanted to invest and put my money where my mouth is. So, nine months later, we opened. So, it was a pretty fast ramp. We've been open nine months and we've got over 600 individual members and we also do corporate memberships. So, we have JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs and Unilever and others that are corporate members because they're looking at different ways to invest in their own talent, and Luminary's a great space to be able to deliver that.

 

Kate Delaney:             We're speaking with Cate Lucio, and she's the founder and CEO of Luminary. As you just heard the tale, funded it herself. Wow. That's so admirable. When you launched this, did you expect it to take off the way it has so fast? It hasn't even been a year and you've got all these big things happening.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yeah. You know, actually, I hoped, but what I think is there is a real need for this, back to the earlier question, and I think women are looking for community, they're looking for connection, and they're looking for tools to continue to advance themselves in whatever they do. I think we have to stop siloing them and bucketing them in this one thing. "Kate, you do this. Jane, you do that." Let's bring women together. We can all learn from one another and really propel each other forward. Oh, by the way, let's make sure men are at the table helping us, right? That's one of the reasons we don't exclude men. It's really important in building a really inclusive, diverse space. We don't have an application process. I don't want someone to apply to become part of our community. That's not a community. That's already excluding people. So, we are a “join now” and we have just unbelievable members from all different places.

 

Gregg Stebben:          You mentioned your corporate sponsors.

 

Cate Luzio:                  Yes.

 

Gregg Stebben:           What is it that they're bringing to the table and getting from Luminary that makes it an attractive opportunity for them as well?

 

Cate Luzio:                 So, every company, if they're even at the mid size and large size, has a women's group, right, and it's usually back on those women to deliver the programming and the content and the speakers. We believe that we're an extension of these women's groups. We take the heavy lift off, but then it puts the individual back in the driver's seat around what types of skills they want to focus on versus just what their company is offering. So, that's one way on the employee engagement experience. There's a huge opportunity around brand awareness and engagement for these companies around, again, putting their money where their mouth is to support their women. Then, third, there's a great opportunity for both customer and talent acquisitions. You never know who you're going to see or meet in the space.

 

Kate Delaney:             Yep. Absolutely.

 

Cate Luzio:                 For me, as somebody who worked in corporate America for over 20 years, it's kind of a no-brainer.

 

Kate Delaney:            Last question, and this is a tough one. What keeps you up at night?

 

Cate Luzio:                 Honestly, as a self-funder, founder, and CEO, everything. I want to make sure that we really live and breathe what we're saying in the community and not diluting. How do you keep growing without going too fast?

 

Gregg Stebben:          Want to make one last point before we wrap this up. You talked about self-funding.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yes.

 

Gregg Stebben:          The point I want to make is that getting funding may not be right for every business. Self-funding may not be right for it.

 

Cate Luzio:                  Oh, exactly.

 

Gregg Stebben:           That's a consideration that every small business should think about, is not just, "I need money," but where's the money coming from?

 

Cate Luzio:                  And why do you need it?

 

Gregg Stebben:           And why do you need it is essential. When it's your money, I bet you treat it a lot differently.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Absolutely. But I think there's a huge opportunity for banks to play in this space versus everyone just looks at, "Oh, I've got to raise a bunch of money."

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yes.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Banks have amazing tools, and we need to educate mainly women business owners on what tools that banks can offer so that you can grow your business.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Beautiful.

 

Kate Delaney:             Yep. Thank you so much. This was terrific.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Thanks for having me.

 

Kate Delaney:             Thanks.

 

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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To celebrate women business owners, Bank of America and Forbesbooks took time to speak with small business experts at their recent panel event. Panelist Deepti Sharma, founder of FoodtoEat, is creating opportunity and increasing the odds of success for caterers and restaurants. Tune in to this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street” for Deepti Sharma’s entrepreneurial journey.

 

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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.

 

Transcript:

Kate Delaney:             I'm Kate Delaney with Gregg Stebben. We're from “Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. We're here at the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, and we're here with Deepti Sharma. She is the founder and CEO of FoodtoEat. What is FoodtoEat?

 

Deepti Sharma:          So, first of all, thank you for having me.

 

Gregg Stebben:          You're welcome.

 

Deepti Sharma:          FoodtoEat is a corporate catering concierge service where we partner with immigrant women and minority-owned restaurants in New York City. Essentially, we help them by taking over their sales and marketing for catering and help them book catering opportunities at large clients. And we're getting these corporations that we feed to do two things. One, we help them consolidate their food and beverage programs, so they don't have to go to 10 different restaurants in order to book catering opportunities, and then two, we're helping them look at diversity and inclusion through the lens of food and beverage, so thinking about how they can invest by using their purchasing power in small businesses in the community and the businesses we represent, as I said, are immigrant- woman- or minority-owned, and two, we're also allowing them to think about inclusion. So, inclusion is not just hiring women and people of color, which is how D&I is usually looked at. So, we say, "How about you do that through your food and beverage programs?"

 

Gregg Stebben:          Culture.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Yes, culture. Exactly. Get the people you've hired to feel as if you're actually trying to think about where they're from and the cuisines that they grew up eating. So, again, it's such a simple thing. Food is sustenance, but it's always put on the back burner. What's the least amount of money I can spend on food? But at any event, good food and good drinks, people remember that.

 

Gregg Stebben:          It also brings the best out of people. So, you're probably going to have some really great gains in productivity and-

 

Deepti Sharma:          Absolutely.

 

Gregg Stebben:          ... and engagement amongst your employees-

 

Deepti Sharma:          Absolutely.

 

Gregg Stebben:          ... that produce results that frankly were unpredictable around a pizza.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Absolutely. As you're talking about that, one of the things we've done to humanize the experience is we started a campaign called I Made Your Food where we photograph all the owners, chefs, and operators holding the sign called “I Made Your Food” because we want those photograph to be in front of the catering and people to look at it before they pick up that free food and say, "Oh, wow. This is the person that has literally had something to do with putting my food together." You see these people standing in line, they're like, "Oh, what is that? I'm so curious and interested." We've even had companies send out the links to the blogs of the interviews that we've done because they want to promote the D&I experience, and they want to promote that they're actually doing this for their team inside.

 

Kate Delaney:             What a brilliant idea and with, of course, the explosion of social media, all different platforms, I would imagine that really took off like wildfire.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Yeah. I mean, a lot of the companies that we're feeding loved it and, essentially, have literally switched over from other organizations that they used to work with to us because they loved that we actually care about the vendors that we represent, that we care about the businesses that we work with, because we don't want to be seen as a third party to them. We want to be able to be seen as an extension of their business.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Talk to us about the kinds of restaurants and food companies you're working with. Would they be in the catering business if they had not created a relationship with FoodtoEat?

 

Deepti Sharma:          Yeah. So, some of them are ... We're in New York City, so we work with some local chains like Dos Toros or fresh&co, which are ... they have above 10 locations in New York City alone.

 

Gregg Stebben:          That's still local or regional companies?

 

Deepti Sharma:           Yeah.

 

Gregg Stebben:           Okay.

 

Deepti Sharma:           They are still local, regional companies.

 

Gregg Stebben:           So, not Taco Bell or-

 

Deepti Sharma:            No. No.

 

Gregg Stebben:            ... Chili's?

 

Deepti Sharma:            No.

 

Gregg Stebben:           Okay.

 

Deepti Sharma:          We try to avoid those. But we do have clients that have requested them sometimes. Again, we don't want to be representing those businesses, but we have mom and pops, organizations like Ja Dijo Dom (Owner/Chef Charles Chipengule). He's an individual that actually used to work for another vendor of ours. He learned everything he could, left, and started his own business. He's from Botswana and wanted to bring the cuisine of not just Botswana, but the continent of Africa and he wanted to educate people because he himself wanted to educate himself about what the cuisine all over Africa is like. So, he started a catering company. So, we have vendors like him, Mamagyro, which is a mother/daughter-owned Greek restaurant and catering business.

 

                                   So, those are the stories that I feel like are the fabric of our country. When people think about what's American food, I don't think it's burgers and fries. I think it is the cuisine of the world, right, because that's who we are. We're immigrants. That's why, as a first-generation woman of color, I think it's really essential for me to represent where I come from, which is ... Obviously, I'm In ... not obviously, but I am an Indian American.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Not as obvious to a radio audience.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Yeah. Not as obvious, but I am Indian American, and so I wanted to represent that, but I wanted to represent people from all over the world.

 

Gregg Stebben:          What fascinates me about what you've done is you're actually creating opportunity and increased odds of success for the caterers and the restaurants that you work with and, at the same time, creating this opportunity for inclusion and understanding and opening people's minds about food and culture on the company side, and on top of that, we also have a much more diverse workplace. So, it must be very thrilling for people at a company to have their culture represented from time to time as opposed to the standard stuff you get from a company.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Absolutely. We want them to not only do it when it's Hispanic Heritage Month or Black History Month. We want them to know that every one of these restaurants or caterers that we work with should be represented throughout the year, right? It's not just these specialty moments or months to celebrate them. So, that's when ERG groups do it. So, we, again, are changing that conversation to say, "You should have cuisine from all over the world all the time."

 

Gregg Stebben:          All the time.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Exactly.

 

Kate Delaney:            I mentioned at the top that, of course, we're here at the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight event, and Deepti, for you, obviously, there has to be a connection. What would you advise young women who want to be entrepreneurs, who want to be business owners like yourself, what would you advise them to do?

 

Deepti Sharma:          I was talking about this earlier with someone. I always try to tell them to be passionate, but passion isn't enough to run a business. So, what I think is really important is when you're walking into a room, be able to back up anything you do with facts. People will always ask, "Why you? Why now? Why does this business need to be started now?" and, "Why does it have to be you?" So, just make sure you have the facts of why it is you should be this right person and have those facts of what is the problem that you're trying to solve and why is it now that's most important to get it done.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Okay. I'll take the bait. Why you? Why now? What happened in your life to make you see that this was an opportunity?

 

Deepti Sharma:          When I started FoodtoEat, it was a very different business. I started as an online ordering platform for food trucks and carts, like a Seamless for food trucks. Why me? Because I'm a New Yorker, I absolutely love this city, community has always been a big part of whatever I've done, and I wanted to help create opportunities for underrepresented, marginalized communities. I've worked in politics before it. I had seen what it was like to bring people together for one cause. So, why me? Because I've done it in the world of politics, where I've worked on a number of campaigns. Why at that time? Food trucks were booming. It was 2011 and it was an interesting time and I wanted to help grow and scale them, but not the hippy, the hipster type of food trucks. I wanted to help the small business owners that technology was emerging, but they weren't actually using it-

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yes.

 

Deepti Sharma:           ... so I was sending them, through our system, text messages with orders from people that were sitting in their offices. So, why me? Because I've done things before where I've brought people together for a cause and I felt like I could do it for these people to help them grow in scale. At the time, like I said, food trucks were hot. Then, we solely pivoted for a lot of reasons, which we could spend another 30, 40 minutes-

 

Gregg Stebben:          I'm sure we could.

 

Deepti Sharma:          ... but the pivot was great for us because we were able to continue helping the food industry in a different capacity.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I love the fact that in your original model, you were helping the food trucks and hungry people and now you're helping a very specific set, immigrants, women, on one hand grow their business with your help and expertise, but also, there's this whole inspirational, educational, cultural enlightenment part, which, if I had to choose one of those models to motivate me to get out of bed in the morning, I would definitely pick what you pivoted to. I really want to congratulate you for that.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Yeah. Thank you. I mean, we always worked with immigrant women, minority, but the funny thing is it was always something I knew I was doing, but it wasn't a part of my branding.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yes.

 

Deepti Sharma:          It became more a part of our story because we saw that that's what would really push our business and that's what would really get the habits of corporations to change.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yeah. Because you have two tribes now, and one of them is very big and powerful and well-funded.

 

Deepti Sharma:           Exactly.

 

Gregg Stebben:           That's very exciting.

 

Deepti Sharma:            Corporations needs to spend their dollars in the right places.

 

Kate Delaney:              Yeah. Yeah.

 

Gregg Stebben:           So, let's help them.

 

Deepti Sharma:           The challenge is always with Fortune 500 companies. There's always a lot of red tape. How do we break that? How do we get them to change the habits of conforming to what they're used to, which is working with companies like Aramark and Sedexo?

 

Gregg Stebben:          The thing I love about, I think you said, the hashtag or that what you put in the photo is I Made This.

 

Deepti Sharma:           I Made your Food.

 

Gregg Stebben:           I Made your Food. What I love about that is so often, the food we eat, nobody made it.

 

Deepti Sharma:           Yeah.

 

Gregg Stebben:           A machine made it. A robot made it. It's not even really food.

 

Deepti Sharma:           It's processed. Yeah.

 

Gregg Stebben:           It's processed. You're delivering real food made by real people-

 

Deepti Sharma:           Exactly.

 

Gregg Stebben:           ... that provides real jobs and real opportunity. That is very exciting.

 

Deepti Sharma:          So, for us, that's what I'm thinking about, is that how do we change the conversation, and that's why we really started investing our time in D&I because we realized that people ... It's a hot topic. Everyone wants to be a part of it and everybody wants to be doing something new and different. So, it's still tough, right? Corporations don't change with the snap of a finger, even though I wish they did.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Not even when Deepti snaps her fingers.

 

Kate Delaney:             That's right.

 

Deepti Sharma:           Yes.

 

Kate Delaney:             Thank you very much. It was lovely meeting you. I love your mission. I can't wait to see where it all ends up.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I want lunch.

 

Deepti Sharma:           Thank you.

 

Kate Delaney:             Yeah, so do I.

 

Deepti Sharma:           I'm always hungry.

 

Narrator:                     For more great small business tips check out Bank of America’s online Small Business Community at bankofamerica.com/sbc. Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it.

 

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

10 million people. 35,000 different events. More than 165 countries. 1 week.

 

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Yes, Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) is coming to a city near you the week of November 18 and there is a ton of information and events to help you grow your business.

 

We are living in an amazing moment in which the world is changing before our very eyes. Countries and leaders rise and fall. Whole continents are melting, oceans rising, and coasts receding. Yesterday’s third- world economies become today’s global economic powers. It is a time of tremendous, momentous, global, transformational change.

 

We also live in a time of tremendous opportunity: Modern medicine and travel are a marvel. The Internet has allowed us to learn almost anything and connect with almost anyone, anywhere. Many people the world over are living longer, healthier, and more productive lives.

 

And that is what Global Entrepreneurship Week is all about.  According to the GEW website,

 

Global Entrepreneurship Week is the world’s largest celebration of the innovators and job creators who launch startups that bring ideas to life, drive economic growth and expand human welfare.

 

During one week each November, GEW inspires people everywhere through local, national and global activities designed to help them take the next step in their entrepreneurial journey.

These activities, from large-scale competitions and events to intimate networking gatherings, connect participants to potential collaborators, mentors and even investors — introducing them to new possibilities and exciting opportunities.

 

So, how can you get involved, learn more, or give something back? There are four ways:

 

1. Register: Go to the Global Entrepreneurship Network and create a profile. “The more information you provide, the more you will be able to engage with the community and stay up-to-date on the GEW activities happening simultaneously around the world.”

 

2. Organize an event or activity: By organizing an event, you can inspire your local entrepreneurial community while also connecting them to potential collaborators, mentors and possible investors. You would also be strengthening your local startup ecosystem while being part of a global movement.

 

       What sort of event could you host? Almost anything:

    • Create a pitch competition
    • Have an entrepreneurship film festival
    • Organize a hack-a-thon
    • Create a speaker series
    • Have a policy roundtable
    • Offer a workshop

 

3. Find an event or activity: Thousands of events, activities, and competitions will be taking place during Global Entrepreneurship Week. Look for the ‘Find an Event’ button on the gew.co homepage.

 

4. Connect: In addition to connecting face-to-face during GEW events and activities, you can also connect using the GEW social media channels:

 

 

Go ahead and jump in, have some fun, get inspired, meet a new friend, and grow your business. And who knows, you just might change the world.

 

About Steve Strauss

 

Steve Strauss Headshot New.pngSteven 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

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice. Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.  ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

So just what is a man who was the captain of an Indian naval warship of 85 men and officers, doing running a women’s healthcare company in Boston

Changing the world, and changing his world, that’s what.Prakash.jpg

I’m not sure which part of his story is more interesting –

 

  • That Prakash Veenam went to India’s equivalent of West Point
  • Or that he captained that naval warship
  • Or that he left his military career to move to America to start over as an entrepreneur by getting his MBA (at the prestigious Babson College)
  • Or that, one year out of school, he was chosen to become the CEO of a high-tech Boston-based women’s healthcare product business

 

The fact is, it’s all damn interesting.

 

To start, let’s dip into the company he leads.

 

Maternova was founded in 2009 by two women and it does two things exceptionally well.

 

  • It manufactures and sells an array of innovative women’s health and medical products, like a combined Hep B and C and HIV tester, or an armband that detects childhood pneumonia.
  • It consults with medical caregivers around the world, like midwives in South America and Africa, on health and product issues.

 

So just how did Mr. Veenam end up as the CEO of this fascinating company, especially when his background did not lend itself to women’s health issues?

 

Upon concluding his naval career, Prakash decided he wanted to become an entrepreneur. This makes a whole lot of sense of course. Veterans are known to be excellent entrepreneurs as they have a certain set of skills that dovetail nicely with business life – they can create a plan and follow it, they know how to build and lead a team, they know how to analyze and accomplish projects and missions, and so forth.

 

While he was at Babson as a business development “fellow,” the founders of Maternova were hunting for a CEO. This makes a lot of sense because  often the skills a founder has that are well suited to starting a company are not the same as those needed to run a growing business.

 

A CEO with that second set of skills if often sought out and hired.

 

The two Maternova founders went to Babson, first looking for someone to help them with some special projects. Babson specifically sought out Prakash, as they thought his background gave him the leadership skills needed for the assignment.

 

The two Maternova founders agreed and after only a few months doing the special projects assignments, he was asked to interview for the job of CEO. The founders loved him, loved his naval background, loved his management style, and loved working with him.

 

He has been the CEO for over a year now. As he told me, “Although Maternova is not a startup, it is like a startup. It is an innovative, forward-looking company. And it is a very good fit.”

 

Prakash explained to me that his naval background made him uniquely prepared for this job. “As with a business, when I was out at sea, I needed to plan, yes, but I also needed to be creative and have a willingness to think on my feet, and pivot to solve problems. I also had to learn how to give orders, get people to carry out those orders, and work as a team.”

 

Sounds like business to me.

 

 

As for what’s next, he points to his vision for his company. “We are looking to grow, to find investors, and great partners, and to create new products.” Indeed, they now have 60 products in the pipeline.

 

“It’s all part of the challenge that is entrepreneurship,” Prakash says.

 

Resources for Veteran Entrepreneurs

 

What with their ability to follow a mission, their commitment to teamwork, and mastery of follow-through, veterans make great entrepreneurs. Here then are some of the best small business resources available to them:

 

Bank of America:

Bank of America has special benefits for U.S. veterans, including new discounts on select loan products.  To learn more, visit us online or reach out to a Small Business Specialist.

 

SBA Veteran Programs:

Not surprisingly, that best friend to small business, the Small Business Administration, has a lot of resources for the veteran entrepreneur. For example, Operation Boots to Business is a program for military service personnel transitioning to civilian life.

 

The Veterans Administration:

Similarly, the VA has a great small business resource center, the Veteran Entrepreneur Portal. Offering help for everything from starting, to financing, to growing a business, this is a great place for the fresh and seasoned veteran entrepreneur alike.

 

Veteran Entrepreneurship Courses:

According to Bunker in a Box CEO Todd Conner, “Bunker in a Box is designed to be a first-stop for exploring entrepreneurship.” Using videos, online tutorials, and articles, veterans can embark on 14 “missions” that teach entrepreneurship. Along the same lines, but in person, Patriot Boot Camp offers entrepreneurship training programs in various cities nationwide.

 

About Steve Strauss

 

Steve Strauss Headshot New.pngSteven 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

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice. Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.  ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

Kara Goldin was on a personal quest. She left her job at AOL in 2001 to start a family. And she “wanted to make a difference in the world.”

 

The family part came first. Then Goldin “found herself overweight, low energy and suffering from adult acne.” The culprit, she decided was diet soda—so she quit cold turkey.

She also was worried about the sugar-laden beverages her kids were drinking. The solution to the beverage problems was water, but water is bland, and Goldin didn’t think it would be a long-term fix. So she started “cutting up fruit and throwing it into pitchers of water.”

 

Hint-051320190577_PInk.jpg

When a friend noticed Goldin’s water with fresh cucumbers in it, she said, “Someone should bottle that.” That’s all the motivation the former tech exec needed. While pregnant with her 4th child, Goldin traveled halfway across the country to find a bottler who would make her calorie-free flavored water with no sweeteners or preservatives.

 

In 2005 she launched hint water—water with a “hint of fruit.” When I first met her in 2013, she admitted she was a little naïve. She had to battle the big guys (Coke and Pepsi) for shelf space, particularly in the big grocery chains. One of her first big breaks came when she landed a deal with Whole Foods. Today, her lines of hint waters (still, sparkling, kick and kids) is on the shelves of grocery stores nationwide.

 

In 2017 Goldin had some pre-cancerous cells on her nose. She didn’t like the sunscreens on the market and, once again, motivated by a personal quest—she created hint sunscreen.

 

What drives Goldin? I caught up with her a few weeks ago to find out.

 

Rieva Lesonsky: When I first interviewed you in 2013, you were well on your way to success. Since then Hint has experienced explosive growth.

 

Kara Goldin: We are [now] a thriving and expanding company with 200 employees. Today we’re the largest independent non-alcoholic beverage company in the country that doesn’t have a relationship with Coke, Pepsi or Keurig Dr Pepper.

 

Lesonsky: When you launched you didn’t “know anything about beverages.” What gave you the courage to keep going?

 

Goldin: I thought if Hint could make me drink more water and get healthier, then it would help others too. All along we had to educate the consumer. I figured out that “diet” wasn’t necessarily healthier. So we focused on having a great-tasting product with no sugar or sweeteners of any kind. If you have a great product, the consumer will tell you whether or not it’s good. We even created a new category called “unsweetened flavored water.”

 

Today, more than ever, people actively choose a healthy option if they don’t have to compromise on enjoyment, or, in this case, taste. Hint has always been ahead of the market and Hint’s mantra “Drink Water, Not Sugar” has caught on. We led the way and continue to innovate by offering more options to more people, reaching every generation, every demographic, every ethnicity, everybody.

 

Lesonsky: Now the company is branching beyond water, introducing kids water and sunscreen. Why these products?

 

Goldin: It’s always about solving a problem that’s personal. I had a bout with skin cancer, I couldn’t find a product that didn’t contain ingredients dermatologists told me to avoid including oxybenzone and parabens. So it always starts like that.

 

Lesonsky: Do you plan to introduce other products at a future date?

 

Goldin: Yes, deodorant is on the way very soon and we are always thinking about innovations to make it easier for people to be healthier. There is definitely more to come.

Lesonsky: Seems to me you take the ordinary and turn it into something extraordinary. How do you look at it?

 

Goldin: I try to remember what really matters, why we started Hint and what keeps us inspired—helping people lead healthier lives without compromising on enjoyment.

Lesonsky: Business history is full of examples of entrepreneurs with great ideas who were able to start and grow but weren’t capable of scaling their businesses. You’re an exception. How have you avoided the problems so many others experience?

 

Goldin: Passion trumps experience. Trust your gut. Develop a network of people who can help you figure stuff out.

 

Lesonsky: Back in 2013, you told me your philosophy was being “scrappy” is what it takes to be an entrepreneur. How would you describe your philosophy today?

 

Goldin: I’m still scrappy. I tell entrepreneurs all the time that I never said to myself, “I want to be an entrepreneur” or “I want to be a beverage entrepreneur.” I never take “no’s” as an answer, I solve problems and give people irresistible solutions.

 

Lesonsky: You wanted to “make a difference” in the world. You obviously have. What drives you to keep going?

 

Goldin: I just thought if I could actually get people to enjoy water again, instead of drinking all those other things that not only have sugar, but also diet sweeteners, then we could actually change health. I ultimately want to help make everyone healthy.

 

Lesonsky: What has been your greatest challenge and how did you solve it?

 

Goldin: My main challenge was mass producing our flavored water without adding perservatives or sweeteners. Everyone said it couldn’t be done. Frankly we had no idea, because the industry experts didn’t have any idea how to develop a product without using preservatives. But we researched how fruit juice is pasteurized to extend its shelf life and went on to devise a similar technique for our waters and the rest is history, as they say.

 

Lesonsky: Any advice for startup women entrepreneurs?

 

Goldin: Find a problem that needs to be solved and go do it. If you can solve the problem, like I’ve done with drinking water, you can help millions of people.

 

About Rieva Lesonsky

 

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

 

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

 

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

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

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

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

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National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) hosted its annual National Women’s Business Conference to bring together women entrepreneurs from across the country to learn, network and share their ideas for the future. NAWBO, which is celebrating its 44th year as an organization, chose “Our Time is Now” as this year’s theme—and our team fully embraced that sentiment! Marking Bank of America’s seventh year as the presenting sponsor of the event, our team walked away energized, empowered and inspired by the incredible women business owners who are making strides across the country.

 

One of the highlights of the conference was the presentation of the annual Woman Business Owner of the Year award. From hundreds of nominations submitted from NAWBO Chapters all over the country, the field was narrowed to three finalists: Gail Becker of CAULIPOWER; Merrilee Kick of Buzzballz/Southern Champion, LLC; and Lynn Weirich of Business Financial Group (BFG). Gail was selected as this year’s winner.

 

While on the ground, we had a chance to talk with the three women and get some advice on business best practices and advice for building a successful small business:

 

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Gail Becker, CAULIPOWER – 2019 winner of the Woman Business Owner of the Year Award

 

Prior to founding Caulipower, Gail’s career covered media, politics and business. However, as a mom of two boys with celiac disease, she couldn’t find pizza options that were tasty and gluten-free. So, she left her corporate job to launch CAULIPOWER, with a mission to reinvent favorite foods one healthy meal hack at a time. In two years, she turned her idea into the No. 8 best-selling frozen pizza brand in the United States, extended the product offerings and created a $100 million-plus company.

 

What advice would you give prospective or new women business owners looking to start and grow their businesses?

 

Never be afraid to bet on yourself, because if you don’t, no one else ever will!

 

What skills or characteristics are foundational to be an entrepreneur or small business owner?

To be an entrepreneur today you have to be pretty fearless. I inherited my fearlessness from my father, who came to this country as an immigrant with absolutely nothing and built a small business, which I got to work in every Saturday for $20 plus lunch. When he passed away, he really passed along onto me this fearlessness, which I’ve used every single day in building my business.

 

Merrilee Kick, Buzzballz/Southern Champion, LLC – Finalist

 

Merrilee is CEO and founder of BuzzBallz/Southern Champion, the only woman-owned distillery/winery in the United States. BuzzBallz/Southern Champion makes ready-to-drink cocktail brands and premium spirits brands sold in 43 states and seven countries. The company is family operated out of the Dallas area. Merrilee is a winner of the 2018 EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award Southwest, EY’s Winning Women Award 2016, and many other accolades.

 

What moment would you say has had the biggest impact in shaping your professional success?

One of the most important things that happened to me in my professional career was attending a trade show. I was having a hard time getting sales in different states. We barely had any money when my son and I hoofed it to that trade show, got a tiny little booth, and then overnight we had 15 new distributors for our product. They were statewide distributors, which was a big deal for us. That’s when I knew we were going to make it.

 

Lynn Weirich, Business Financial Group (BFG) – Finalist

 

Lynn is president of BFG, a human resource consulting firm she co-founded in 1997. BFG helps business owners manage their back-office issues related to their most important asset: their people. Services include payroll processing, timekeeping, onboarding, training, HR information systems and more. Lynn is one of three founding members of NAWBO-San Antonio and she has won numerous awards, including the San Antonio Business Journal’s leadership award.

 

What would you say has had the biggest impact in shaping your professional success?

I would say that it’s recognizing that my internal clients come first and foremost. If they are happy and they’re productive and the culture is right, then my external clients will be well taken care of too.

 

For more from this year’s finalists, check out NAWBO’s September interviews with them here.

Years ago, when I ran an event with Jeff Pulver, he told me, “You live or die by your database.”

 

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He meant the list of prospects, customers and companies acquired over time and through hard work. The contacts in your phone. Your email newsletter list. Your alumni databases from college. These are all databases you have access to in one way or another. But what value does that bring?

 

It’s Always the Database

 

I recently started a partnership in a company where we build skill and knowledge transfer using augmented reality tools for big companies like manufacturing, aerospace, and so on. As it happens, I’m friends with someone from Boeing, know a guy who builds massive supply chain projects for big companies, and I have a list of about 600 highish-level people in other places that should also be a good start for this project.

 

I have these because I nurture relationships all the time, and not just in my business vertical, but anywhere someone is doing interesting work and might be a good ally later on. The more I reach out and connect with people in various verticals, the more I earn the opportunity to offer up my services where it makes sense and I can be helpful.

 

It takes more than just striking up conversations, though.

 

What to Do and How

 

No matter the size of your business, you can do what I’m about to recommend. And you can use whatever you want for this kind of project, but if you use something built for the job like customer relationship management (CRM) software, there will be all kinds of benefits, such as  the ability to take notes, search, gather group information, and so on. Hubspot offers a free CRM software program. Zoho has one that’s free or inexpensive. If you search for “free CRM,” there are plenty. Or heck, just open a spreadsheet and fill in someone’s name, email, phone, and then a spot for notes with dates and you’ll be ahead of the curve.

 

Let’s say you’ve picked the tool for the job (it’s okay to change later). The next goal is reaching out, connecting and nurturing contacts. This isn’t all that hard. You can do a little of this each day. Pick 10 names of people you know (I’ll explain who this is further in a moment) and reach out in some form or another. Call or text or email. Drop them a line.

 

What should you say?

 

“Hi (important person)!

I’m just reaching out to check in. I wanted to know what you’re working on and see if I can be helpful. What’s new and exciting in your world?”

Can’t wait to touch base,

(Your name.)”

 

Something like that. Vary it up. Try different messages. But note what I’ve done. The message isn’t selling anything specific. It’s offering to help. It’s asking about the person. The most important part of making connections is being personable about it and not sounding like a sales creature.

 

How often should you connect with the same person? Once a month is usually plenty, believe it or not. So, if you’re doing 10 contacts a day, that’s 300 a month. You can even cycle this to be once every two months. But that’s still a lot more contacts than you’re making right now, I can bet you that.

 

Who Should You Contact?

 

Most people think this is easy: reach out to customers and prospective new customers. Well, sure. That’s definitely one group to reach. But it goes further than this.

 

Reach out to past coworkers. Reach out to peers in your industry. Connect to people in other industries and geographies. Look to people you aspire to grow into being and look for people who are just getting started. I find people’s contact information on Twitter, on LinkedIn, through Google searches, and then I start with a personable introduction letter. This has served me well over the years.

 

And because you’re only doing five or maybe 10 of these contacts each day, it’s not all that super challenging. Your goal isn’t anything in specific beyond making contact and getting conversations started.

 

But Won’t This Snowball into a Crowded Inbox?

 

People stun me when they ask this question, because think about what you’re asking. “A lot of people are giving me their attention and offering an opportunity to connect. Will that be too much?”

 

NO. Never.

 

It’s the best thing in the world to have lots of active conversations with people from all over. Especially when you finally start piecing together ways to help others.

 

Imagine you talk to someone in Lawrence, Kansas, who just lost her job as CEO of a dairy plant. You hear from a friend in Bend, Oregon, that they’re looking for someone to run a new bottling operation for their beverage company. Kapow. You can offer to make some introductions. The more times you’re at the elbow of helping others, the more opportunities just naturally start clicking into your own life and business.

 

It’s About the Database

 

And by that, I mean the list, and by that, I mean people. It’s about keeping a lot of connections warm, and nurturing relationships at a variety of levels. This keeps your business alive in multiple ways, and it gives you many more ways to help others thrive.

 

This is the kind of extra work that brings business success if you give it a try. Are you ready?

 

About Chris Brogan

 

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Chris Brogan is an author, keynote speaker and business advisor who helps companies update organizational interfaces to better support modern humans. The age of factory-sized interactions is over. We all come one to a pack. And it’s time to accept that we are all a little bit dented. Chris advisesleadership teams to empower team members by sharing actionable insights on talent development. He also works with marketing and communications teams to more effectively reach people who want to be seen and understood before they buy what a company sells.

 

Web: https://chrisbrogan.com Twitter: @ChrisBrogan

Read more from Chris Brogan

 

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

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

For a range of historically disadvantaged small business owners, Supplier Diversity programs present an opportunity to get a leg up in a very competitive landscape.

Specifically, benefits include:

 

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  • Access to supplier diversity and procurement executives at hundreds of major U.S. corporations and some federal, state and local government entities
  • Formal and informational opportunities to pursue business deals with National Corporate Members
  • Access to mentoring, education and capacity development
  • Opportunity to promote your business through event participation

 

It takes tremendous effort and dedication to get any small business off the ground, and supplier diversity programs are intiatives to help expand business opportunities, such as help for bidding on large contracts. These opportunities for growth bolster both the small business itself and local communities through job creation and revenues that are shared across the local economy.

 

The support and advantages these programs provide are vital to the select small business owners who may face additional challenges in getting started and expanding their operations.

 

The eligible groups are:

 

  • Women-owned Small Business - Owned and operated by a woman or women
  • Small Disadvantaged Business -  Owned and operated by socially and economically disadvantaged persons
  • Service-disabled Veteran-owned Small Business Concern - Owned and operated by U.S. military veterans who acquired a disability during their service

 

A Banking Partner

 

Small businesses with diverse ownership have a well-equipped ally in Bank of America. BofA’s Supplier Diversity Program, which works with those businesses to ensure that they are afforded opportunities to participate in competitive  bids and/or aid in assisting them grow their existing business with BofA.

To participate in BofA’s program, small businesses must become certified as a diverse supplier, which can be done through one of several organizations like:

 

 

     These organizations help confirm that the business fulfills all of the criteria necessary. Bank of America supports categories including:

 

    • Minority-Owned
    • Woman-Owned
    • Veteran, Disabled Veteran, and Service-Disabled Veteran
    • Disabled-Owned
    • LGBT-Owned
    • HUBZone Businesses (Historically Underutilized Business Zone)

 

     From there, a small business can begin to work with BofA under the Supplier Diversity Program.

 

Why Participate

 

Bank of America works with suppliers to understand their capabilities and to align them with upcoming opportunities where the needs of their business fit the services and/or products that the supplier provides.

 

Bank of America works with both buyers and suppliers to develop the best business matches and foster diversity in the supply chain. To successfully do so, the team at Bank of America has added resources like legal services, marketing and advertising support, digital and social media staffing, design & construction, promotional products, office supplies, global tech and ops and call center support.

 

Starting a small business is never easy but finding the right tools and partners can help diverse businesses  start strong while building a vibrant and thriving business.

For further information, please visit the Bank of America supplier page.

The research presented in this report, sponsored by Bank of America Private bank and developed in partnership with Babson College, offers a rare look into the unique experiences of women entrepreneurs. As they navigate their way to building successful businesses, the report is based on in-depth interviews with 30 women entrepreneurs operating companies in a variety of industries, all of which generate a minimum of $5 million in annual revenues.

 

Through their collective experiences, three key themes emerged, all highlighting the barriers that women often encounter in their endeavors to achieve successful business growth. To help others identify opportunities for similar growth, read the full report for seven actionable strategies direct from successful women entrepreneurs.  

 

Click here to read the full report

 

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Women entrepreneurs plan to grow their businesses and hire more workers in 2020. As they grow as business leaders, it is vital for women to mentor the next generation of female business owners. Bank of America’s Head of Small Business, Sharon Miller, encourages women business owners to dream big and keep pushing to achieve their goals. On this episode of the “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” hear more on this and other findings from the 2019 Women Business Owner Spotlight.

 

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

 

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

 

Transcript:

 

Kate Delaney:            I'm Kate Delaney with Gregg Stebben. We're from Heartbeat of Main Street with ForbesBooksand Bank of America, and we are so pleased to be here at the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight. And we are with, I've got to call her my nickname, the grand dame of banking, Sharon Miller, who is the head of Small Business for Bank of America. It's so great to meet you and be here at this fabulous event.

 

Sharon Miller:            It's so great to be here, Kate and Gregg. Thank you so much for having me.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Absolutely. This is one of your premier events of the year.

 

Sharon Miller:            It is. It is.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So tell us about the event and about the data and the statistics and the research behind it.

 

Sharon Miller:            For the last four years, we have produced a Women Business Owner Report just to understand how women are feeling about the economy, about what's happening with their own business and their revenue outlook. And this time, for the first time over the last four years, women have a higher expectation for hiring plans, for revenue growth of their business and the outlook than their male counterparts. So, that's a pretty fascinating data point when you think about the optimism out there in the economy and what's happening in the political climate right now.

 

Gregg Stebben:         You talk to a lot of women business owners. Do you have theories of your own about why there would be that change?

 

Sharon Miller:            You know, women, I mean Kate, we're women, right?

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm always the guy here.

 

Kate Delaney:            Yes, you are.

 

Sharon Miller:             You're always the guy.

 

Gregg Stebben:          The lone guy.

 

Sharon Miller:             You're the lone guy.

 

                                   And we are sitting in a fabulous place that is dedicated to women, Luminary, that is a co-op of women entrepreneurs working together, that's why we chose this spot in particular here in Manhattan. And to me, women, we are more and more getting out there, starting our own business, wanting to take control of our own destiny. And I think that as that settles in, as you see sustainability, women are understanding, "Hey, I can do this. I feel confident, I feel good about what's going on." And I think it's just time.

 

Kate Delaney:            I love numbers and I'm wondering if there's some trends or stats from the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight that we should look at, that we should call attention to for people who are listening to us.

 

Sharon Miller:            Well, 84% of women told us that they expected their revenue to be higher at the end of this year in 2019 versus last year. So, that's a pretty good majority of business owners out there.

 

Gregg Stebben:         It's also—they're predicting that for themselves after a previously great year.

 

Sharon Miller:            That's right.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So, it's not a reaction to something bad, but it's a greater reaction to something great.

 

Sharon Miller:            It is. It's continuing that increase, it's continued optimism. And we're already in October.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Right.

 

Sharon Miller:            So when you think about, a lot of the year has passed. We're in the 10th month of the year and we're hearing this from business owners, so that's a pretty good indicator of how they feel they'll end the year.

 

Gregg Stebben:         One of the things I want to ask you about, Sharon, because this really fascinated me, partially I think because I am a man, but I think it's going to be really eye-opening for women as well. One of the things you asked as part of this was, "I believe blank will be impactful in helping women in business over the next five years." And first of all, I love the question, I love the collection of responses you got, but I love the fact that the number one thing that women said they thought would be impactful was achieving work-life balance. Because I think that's also aligned with more and more people, thanks to millennials, are looking for in their business whether they own it or they're an employee. And I want to hear you talk about that.

 

Sharon Miller:            I agree, and I think that's not just for entrepreneurship, but it's for corporate America.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yes.

 

Sharon Miller:            And I think about Bank of America and the benefits we give: 16 weeks of maternity or paternity leave when someone has a baby. Whether you're the man or the woman, you get that leave, you get to spend time with your family. More and more, people want to spend time with their family, and it's a blurred line of work and life. And when you can have it both together, and you can do what you love and still be with your loved ones, and your company is committed to that, or you're an entrepreneur and you lead that type of organization, he's got greater followership and greater commitment. And especially in the millennials, we're finding that.

 

Kate Delaney:            Talking about the millennials, here at the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, what would you tell young women as they jump into owning their own businesses?

 

Sharon Miller:            I think it's important to be positive. Be confident. Follow your passion, follow your dream. Because the more I hear and I read articles and I listen to business owners about, "Why did you do it?" "Well, I followed my dream, I followed my passion." Then don't limit your dream and don't limit what's possible, because when you got into this business, you felt the sky's the limit.

 

                                  So keep dreaming, keep thinking about how I can do things differently, how I can continue to expand or go into different markets, and don't ever stop that creative engine that got you here to begin with. Because when you just get stale and you don't keep thinking, "Okay, how can I do this better, faster, more efficient?" You're not going to keep growing. And so that's what I would encourage any business owner to do, but especially millennials as they're getting into the start of their own business.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Millennials, yes, and women, yes. Because one of the things you mentioned early on as we've been talking today, and I think one of the things that's so visible at this event today is that—and you found this in the report—the more there are women who are successful in business, the more it impacts other women and empowers them to do the same thing. For a lot of reasons, including, "Oh, there are lots of mentors now. There's lots of women that have experienced this. There's more women in banking, so that I do have access to capital," on and on and on and on. And I want you to talk about the network effect of that for women, that your report really beautifully displays.

 

Sharon Miller:            I think it's important, and especially when you think about networking and mentorship and connecting with other women, many times when you have a man and a woman coming together to network or mentor, you're going to have differences. And what we found from clients, and we talk about this a lot, many times men are talking to women about, "Okay, maybe you need to navigate this politics or that," versus the tactical, operational, "Here's the finances, here's the P&L-

 

Gregg Stebben:         Oh my gosh, you sound like my wife and I.

 

Sharon Miller:            "Here's how you operate a business."

                                   I mean, so it's important. And I think the more women that know those types of functions and how to do it and how to drive it, they're going to be able to pass that on and understand that, you know what, yeah, there's politics involved, but there's also brass tacks of how to run a business, how to operate a company. And that's all very, very important.

 

Gregg Stebben:         You're talking about a cultural shift as a result of more and more women being in business and owning business and being in positions of leadership.

 

Sharon Miller:            Absolutely. And what we find is that women bring that back to their communities more so than men. Women are coming back, they're investing in their communities.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Why are you both looking at me?

 

Sharon Miller:            We're not trying to!

 

Gregg Stebben:         But you, I mean it is, there's research to support that. Women share, and men don't.

 

Kate Delaney:            But that's exciting, because that means that the more of those tactics that spread, the more the fear or the barrier to entry will lower, I think, for women. What do you think?

 

Sharon Miller:            Yeah, because I see someone, "Oh, they're like me. They can do it, I can do it." You have to, when you can see what's possible and people paving the way, these great women, then you can say, "Wow, I can do that, because I see they're like me."

 

Gregg Stebben:         What kind of programs do you have at Bank of America that are taking advantage of the things you're learning from the report?

 

Sharon Miller:            Well, my favorite is the Women Ready to Lead Conference, and we do this in various cities across the country. And really it's about women understanding that, you know what, you don't have to have all of it right here and there. Raise your hand, let us know you're ready to lead, let us know you want to grow with the company, and we're going to support you, and we're going to help you get to where you want to go.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So in other words, what you're doing is saying, "If you have the right mindset, we'll help you get the right skillset."

 

Sharon Miller:            Absolutely. Absolutely. And we're here to support you, to train you, to mentor you, to connect you with other women within the company. When I think about Bank of America, 40% of our management team is women.

 

Kate Delaney:            Wow.

 

Sharon Miller:             I mean, it starts at the top with Brian Moynihan and our board setting the vision. 30% of our board, women. You don't find that in corporate America. So it's not just we talk about supporting women, we are-

 

Gregg Stebben:         You're doing it.

 

Sharon Miller:             ... a company made of great women and men.

 

Gregg Stebben:         You mentioned few minutes ago about mentors. And you told us off mic that you know, you had had some great mentors or still have great mentors that were men.

 

Sharon Miller:            Yes.

 

Gregg Stebben:         It's easier and easier for women to have great female mentors, because there's women who have now succeeded at higher and higher levels. But it also occurs to me that there will be another shift culturally when men can find great female mentors. Because now you're cross-pollinating all of these things in a very deep way.

 

Sharon Miller:            You are. And I think you're bringing together the best.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yes.

 

Sharon Miller:            Because women and men, they bring together different perspectives, and different backgrounds, and that's what diversity inclusion is all about: bringing your whole self to work and feeling comfortable doing that. So it may not be just a man, woman, it might not be just race. It's where did I grow up, am I from the Northeast, am I from the West coast? Very different, very different culturally. And I think that the best companies and the best organizations allow that to come through so that you're able to get the best outcome.

 

Kate Delaney:            What's your ultimate vision? What would make you get up in the morning and say, "Wow, I just completely have nailed this. I am so happy with where I'm at." Because you're growing, growing, all these different programs.

 

Sharon Miller:            I think every day we have to get up and say, "What can we do more of?" I don't think you ever arrive and say, "Hey, it's here," right? We've got to keep thinking and keep getting better and keep growing, because every day, you learn something new, and how can we be better at supporting all people?

 

Gregg Stebben:         Everybody.

 

Sharon Miller:            All people.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Everybody. And I want to ask you about one last thing. We've talked about this with you before in previous interviews. The program you just told us about, it's called Ready for Leadership?

 

Sharon Miller:            Women Ready to Lead.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Women Ready to Lead. It reminds me of something you told us about before, the Bank of America Institute for Women's Entrepreneurship at Cornell.

 

Sharon Miller:            Yes.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Can you update us... first of all, remind people what it is and then update us on what's happening there today?

 

Sharon Miller:            So it is a program that we put together in partnership with Cornell University to help women entrepreneurs. Anyone can access the program, but we put it together with women in mind around education, around training, around how to access capital. Because in this report too, we talked about access to capital, and it's still a barrier or a perceived barrier of many women. And so it is an online institute where you can sign up, your company can. We've got courses and professors and students that are coming together, every single session that we have. And there's different sections, there's different focuses, but what we've heard from business owners going through is, "It has made the world of difference to my business." We have over 13,000 businesses that are in the queue going through this program, which, that's, doesn't sound like, I mean it's a lot of businesses, but how many more can we reach?

 

Gregg Stebben:         How much bigger is the opportunity?

 

Sharon Miller:            How many more can we reach?

 

Gregg Stebben:         How do you scale?

 

Sharon Miller:            That's right.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yeah. The website is bofainstitute.cornell.edu, bofainstitute.cornell.edu.

 

Kate Delaney:            Perfect place to end us. Sign up.

 

Sharon Miller:            Thank you so much.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Thank you Sharon.

 

Sharon Miller:            Thank you.

 

Narrator:                    For more great small business tips check out Bank of America’s online Small Business Community at bankofamerica.com/sbc. Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

My better half is launching a new skin health business. As part of the process, she ordered labels from an online vendor and the  experience was horrendous. Though she’d ordered with what she felt was plenty of time, the company had several hidden and unexplained steps that ruined her experience. They didn’t deliver.

 

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This all could have been avoided if the company laid out and explained a much better workflow for their prospective buyers. No matter your business, almost every customer needs more hand holding than what they’re getting right now.

 

Make Everything More Explicit and Clear

 

When you buy coffee from your favorite place, you know how to order it. But you know that from experience, not because it’s laid out in any useful way. But many new restaurants are smarter about this. They set up their menus to clearly explain the concept.

 

Look at Chipotle: you pick the way you want the food packaged (burrito, salad, tacos, etc.), what kind of protein you want (beef, pork, chicken, etc.), then your veggies, your salsa, and any extras. It goes left to right. There’s nothing fancy. (Yes, I know guac is extra.)

 

Business at every turn can and should be simple and explicit. When I work with marketing clients, I explain up front what the process looks like, what each session will look like, what I do and don’t do for their company, how they pay, what to do when there’s a problem, how to terminate the contract, and more. It’s explicit. It makes every single part of the process known and understood.

 

What Point Do You Want Them to Take Away?

 

My friend Tamsen Webster is a master at helping professional speakers and organizations improve how they talk about themselves and get their ideas across. In one of my earliest training sessions with her, she told the story of a group of investors pitching their company as a great place for startups to seek funding.

 

The second slide showed the team (most of them between ages 40-75). The team’s idea was that people would see the slide and think, “Wow, now that’s a lot of experience!” Instead, the slide worried young startup entrepreneurs who thought that the team wouldn’t “get” their new ideas.

 

Tamsen said this: Be explicit in the points you want people to take away from the information you share.

 

If you intend for your customer to think that your website offers easy step-by-step ordering, then spell that out. The risk if you don’t is that they’ll mistake simple for unsophisticated, or clean with “lacking substance.” And so on.

 

Be There Every Step of the Way

 

People have an amazing capacity for feeling out-of-sorts and confused. Think of any time you spend in an airport. You’re perpetually in a state of uncertainty. Is this the right gate? Do I have the right documents? Am I going to have everything I need? Where do I go again?

 

It’s so important and easy and helpful to your customers to simply guide  along the way. Hold their hands. They’ll appreciate it so very much.

 

About Chris Brogan

 

chris-brogan-headshot.jpg

Chris Brogan is an author, keynote speaker and business advisor who helps companies update organizational interfaces to better support modern humans. The age of factory-sized interactions is over. We all come one to a pack. And it’s time to accept that we are all a little bit dented. Chris advisesleadership teams to empower team members by sharing actionable insights on talent development. He also works with marketing and communications teams to more effectively reach people who want to be seen and understood before they buy what a company sells.

 

Web: https://chrisbrogan.com Twitter: @ChrisBrogan

Read more from Chris Brogan

 

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

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

Read our interview with NAWBO CEO, Jen Earle.

 

See the Scented Art Diffusers on Instagram @maisonvisionnaire

 

Learn more about NAWBO at www.nawbo.org.

 

Video transcript:

 

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

 

Super:

Elizabeth Foster

Founder, Maison Visionnaire

President, National Association of Women Business Owners NYC

Bank of America Customer

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

End Card:

What would you like the power to do?

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Learn more: bankofamerica.com/Appointment

 

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

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Halloween was the best when I was a kid.

 

Tricking, treating, running, laughing and eating our way into sugar oblivion, we roamed the neighborhood in search of, if not the next big thing, then at least the next big candy haul.

 

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Halloween today is different, and not just for the kids - especially not just for the kids. Maybe you have noticed that these days it is the adults who tend to run wild on Halloween. According to the National Retail Federation:

 

  • Since 2009, spending on Halloween by adults has more than doubled – from a little over $4 billion to now almost $9 billion a year
  • 47% of all adults said they expected to dress in costume this year
  • 29 million people plan to dress their pets in costume for Halloween

 

As a small business, you may be tempted to avoid the Halloween boo-ha-habut let me suggest that embracing the spirit of the holiday is – if not more fruitful – then at least very sweet (and if you think I am out of Halloween puns, you are sadly mistaken!)

 

Here’s how:

 

Make your store and neighborhood super kid awesome. Given that trick-or-treating is now often done in more controlled environments with lots of supervision, it has become an opportunity for the smart small business owner.

 

Look to team up with nearby businesses and with your neighborhood association to make your business/office building/block/area a Halloween destination for kids and parents.

 

  • Decorate the store: Outfitting the shop in a Halloween motif is an easy win. Add orange and black to the windows, put pumpkins on the stoop, and even consider playing some “spooky” music in the days and weeks around the holiday. Halloween decorations are fun for everyone – customers, passers-by, employees, and ghosts and goblins of all ages.

 

  • Prepare the neighborhood: While you are at it, look to add some street decorations and be sure your business neighbors are ready with candy for the kids and coffee and other treats for the adults.

 

After that, make sure to advertise that your area will be a fun Halloween destination leading up to and on Halloween.

 

Then, rather than being a “ghost” town on Halloween, yours will be super-ghoul.

 

Get Even Spookier

 

Here are a few additional ideas:

 

  • Have a pumpkin carving contest, with the winner getting a store discount.

 

  • Welcome costumes: A costume contest – or even just allowing your staff to dress up in their costumes during Halloween week – is not only fun, it is also a social media winner. Posting pictures on Instagram and Facebook of the different costumes in your shop (and of the pumpkin contest!) will generate some social media love.

 

  • Party on: Everybody has a holiday party, but you can be different – and just maybe better – by hosting a Halloween party. Given that folks without kids are often looking for something to do on Halloween, making your business a destination that night will allow folks to eat, drink and be scary.

 

  • Offer Halloween deals: Finally, remember that people always love a good deal. If Halloween is your excuse, it’s not a bad one. By offering a sale on something tangentially related to the holiday, you can gain some holiday traction.

 

Go ahead, jump in. Halloween is all the rage. Doing so will allow you to creep it real!

 

About Steve Strauss

 

Steve Strauss Headshot New.pngSteven 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

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice. Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.  ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

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