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2015

Business_Mentor_body.jpgBy Erin O'Donnell.


Bob Kroon had just started offering his services as a business mentor when a young Silicon Valley CEO contacted him earlier this year. The young man owned a video production startup, and he was having trouble finding employees with the skills he needed.


Kroon, a product development veteran with nearly three decades of corporate experience, realized the CEO had the know-how for his business, but not the network. Kroon helped his client tap into local organizations for video professionals, suggested he ask his current staff for recommendations, and even looked through his own contacts.


"A mentor can add value for a young person who doesn't have many connections and help him find the right resource or partner with the skills he's looking for," Kroon said.


Of course, anyone at any stage of business can benefit from mentorship. But a mentor can be especially useful to small business owners, who often feel isolated, or are overwhelmed by duties that aren't their strengths.


Read on to discover some of the main benefits of working with a mentor.


Goal-setting and strategy

Business owners tend to seek out mentorship when they're stuck at a crossroads, or feel that the business is stagnant, says Lisa Hendrickson, founder of Spark City. The company, with offices in New York City and Albuquerque, provides training and strategic services to small businesses that are moving out of the startup phase into an enterprise model.


"Business owners find themselves on the verge of new territory all the time," Hendrickson says, noting that sales growth, pricing strategy, and organizational structure are just a few of the issues they face.


That's why it's important to set concrete goals for the business, she says, and develop action steps to get there. A coach can help you determine the appropriate steps for your goal. "We talk a lot about strategy and connecting day-to-day activities with our long-term goals," Hendrickson says.


Business_Mentor_PQ.jpg

Objective feedback in a safe setting

A mentor can offer advice on issues you may not want to share with your investors or staff. Kroon's Silicon Valley-based firm, Expeerious, offers one-on-one coaching plus access to peer advisory boards. Groups of seven or eight owners of non-competing businesses meet to seek and share unbiased feedback in confidence.


It's important to get advice from someone without an emotional of financial stake in the business, Hendrickson agrees. Many clients come to her with misinformation and unsolicited advice that clouds their judgment.


Developing leadership skills

For new entrepreneurs, one of the most difficult transitions to make is from employee to business owner, Hendrickson says. A coach can help you develop the leadership skills your company needs for growth.


Let's say you've reached the point where you can no longer make your product yourself. Hendrickson gives the example of a baker who starts out making cupcakes in her kitchen. As her business grows, she must eventually hand over the day-to-day baking to trusted staff members so she can oversee the big picture.


"You get to a point where all the things you learned while baking at your house are no longer applicable," Hendrickson says.


How to find a mentor

Most startups reach a transitional stage after three years, Hendrickson says. By that time, many entrepreneurs have pivoted away from their original idea, they've discovered what works, and they're poised for growth. That's usually an ideal time to seek mentorship.


But how do you find the right fit? According to Kroon, competency is part of the equation. So is chemistry. "Underneath all mentoring is the term 'trust,'" he says. "It takes time. You have to learn how each other thinks."


Look to your own network. Is there another business owner who has accomplished what you want? Network with others in your industry, and ask for coach referrals. The U.S. Small Business Administration also has a guide to finding mentors within organizations such as SCORE, Small Business Development Centers, the Minority Business Development Agency, and others.


Finally, come prepared. Hendrickson recommends that business owners take time to define what they're dissatisfied with in the business, and what they're trying to achieve. Quoting renowned executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, she says: "What got you here won't get you there."


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. 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.

 

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

These days, social media is utilized for a variety of business purposes. Not only is it used to prospect for new customers, but it is also a valuable tool for communicating with current ones, and building your brand to boot. Therefore being out of the loop when it comes to social media platforms is a recipe for disaster; the conversations are going to happen whether you are there or not, so you need to become a social media advocate.


If your small business is struggling to harness the power of social media, here are a few tips to help you better utilize these platforms:


1. Have A Plan: Social media isn’t something you can just jump into, it should be thought of as a strategic marketing tool that requires forethought and proper planning.


First, figure out what social media platform most of your customers are on and follow them there. If you personally like Twitter, but they are mostly on Facebook, then you need to move to Facebook. Beyond that,

  • Plan out your content for the month, taking into account the various specials, deals, holiday sales, etc. that your company will run. Use a tool like Hootsuite
  • Put together a list of “spontaneous” content ideas to post when you have some time to interact with your follower base. Even though you will more than likely wind up going a bit off script at times, the existence of a plan will mean that you always have something to fall back on.


One book I like a lot that can help you plan your social media efforts is 30 Minute Social Media Marketing by Susan Gunelius.


2. Focus on Others: This is another place where the good ‘ol 80-20 Rule applies. Make 80% of your posts about others, and only 20% about you or your business. Nobody wants to be friends with the person who is always talking about themselves, especially if that person is really a business.


With social media, you have to give to get.


Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss


3. Be Helpful: When you run a business, there is a fairly clear expectation that you know what you are talking about, and nothing gets that point across better than offering up valuable advice as needed. The same has to become true with your social media posts. Dishing out informed, helpful advice will help set you up as a go-to expert in your field, paving the way for people to organically find their way to your business.


4. Post Shareable Content: I once interviewed a guy who mastered the art of sharing. His website gets about 15 million visitors a month, and he does zero advertising. It’s all from social media sharing. What’s his secret?


He said, “Steve, people will share something when it moves them emotionally. Either they find it funny, or quirky, or cute, or touching – that sort of thing. Positive emotions work better than negative ones for sharing, although anger gets people to share things too.”

So for us in the small business world, that means you need to offer up the type of content that encourages sharing, because by doing so, you are automatically expanding your reach without adding work time to your already busy schedule.


5. Interact with Your Followers: This is the key. People like to feel like they are being heard, so make sure that you are listening to what your followers are saying and then responding when appropriate. Retweeting positive messages, responding to customer complaints, answering inquiries and offering advice are all great ways to show your followers that you’re not just a robot mindlessly posting content. Humanizing yourself helps others connect with your company on a more personal level.


About Steve Strauss

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

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.

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngSomehow, here we are on the cusp of another holiday season.

 

With Halloween, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, and New Year’s, it is no secret that this time of year is make or break for many small businesses. People right now are getting ready to shop and spend, and the good news is that with the economy humming, holiday sales are expected to break some records, both online and off. For small business owners, that means there is a lot of opportunity to break some of your own records this year.

 

So, what do you do and how can you take advantage of this special moment?

 

I would like to suggest a few different ideas; ideas that are (hopefully!) different than your run-of-the-mill ‘have a holiday sale’ sort of thing. And, while a sale is all well and good (see below), you simply have to do more than tell people to ‘shop here!’ if you want to get noticed. To be heard above the din this time of year, you need to do something different and memorable, such as:

 

Have a holiday contest: Consider the bakery that has an annual “Holiday Gingerbread Contest.” They recruit some local celebrities to judge it (including a local TV anchor to ensure good press), offer great prizes and publicity to the winner, and every year it is a hit. The bakery gets tons of publicity, and of course, sales follow.

 

Go free: People love free, especially when they may be a little stressed out by spending too much, so offering them something for free would be welcomed. For instance, maybe you have Santa come to your store every Friday during December while you offer everyone free cookies and hot chocolate. Kids would love it, as would their parents, and your shop would most certainly get noticed.

 

Or what about creating a free gift-wrap station at your store? Undoubtedly many of the things they will wrap will be items they purchased from you.

 

So the question is, what can you offer people that’s a free loss leader?

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss


Get in the holiday spirit: Provide ways for customers to donate to the charity of their choice when they shop with you, and offer them a discount for doing so.

 

Have a B2B holiday party – before everyone else: Invite your best clients and customers to a holiday party, but don’t have it in December. For example, have it closer to Thanksgiving, and have ‘thanks’ be the theme.

 

Have a sale – but not like everyone else: Everyone will be having a Black Friday or Cyber Monday sale and accordingly, many of those sales will get lost in the crowd. But yours won’t if you have a Terrific Tuesday sale, or a Wacky Wednesday sale. There is a mall near me that has a “Festival of the Last Minute Shopper” every year during the week before Christmas. That's the idea.

 

Create a sale – chosen by your customers: One of my favorite pieces of business advice ever was given by a SCORE counselor who said, “Ask them what they want, then give them what they want.”

 

That would be an especially great way to engage with your network using social media. Ask your customers what they would like to see on sale, and then put those things on sale.

 

Send out humorous holiday cards: We all get lots of holiday cards, so in order to be memorable add in some humor to your greeting card. For example, one business made sure their holiday greetings would get noticed: the law firm sent out their cards as their “criminal alter-egos.” Humor works and is memorable.

 

So you get it. The idea is to get into the holiday spirit, but in a way that is just a tad different than everyone else. That is what works.

 

About Steve Strauss

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

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.

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

 

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Icon-sm.gifUp to 40% of annual sales can come during the holidays, so we’ve compiled some simple ideas, tips and best practices to help you have the best season possible.  Click here

Veteran_Resources_body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

Military veterans who are either starting their own small business or already running one are in a unique category. Their training, service, and discipline are highly regarded by prospects and clients. The government also regularly awards a significant number of contracts specifically to businesses owned by veterans.

 

The following list of selected resources can provide information, assistance, and services to military veteran small business owners. Some of these overlap in their coverage of topics, so check them out thoroughly to find those that can help you best.

 

Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization: A comprehensive resource run by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs that promotes small business participation in VA procurements.

 

VetBiz: Run by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, it provides information about the verification process to qualify for VA contracts.

 

Veteran_Resources_PQ.jpgService Disabled Veteran-Owned Businesses: The Small Business Administration resource that provides contracting support for veterans and service-disabled veterans, with information on how to qualify for veteran contracts.

 

Office of Veterans Business Development: Operated by the Small Business Administration, it provides help on availability, applicability, and usability of administration small business programs for veterans, reservists, and their families.

 

VeteranOwnedBusiness.com: A member network of businesses owned by veterans, reservists, and military spouses. Offers a directory of veteran-owned small businesses, job board and contracting opportunities, and extensive contact information for VA offices.

 

National Veteran-Owned Business Association (NaVOBA): Advocacy group that fights for more opportunities for military veteran business owners. Offers a registry for consumers looking for veteran-owned businesses, a magazine covering the veteran-owned business movement, webinars, and an index of "Buy Veteran" companies.

 

V-WISE: A program operated by the Institute For Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University that provides women veterans with tools and resources to start and grow their own businesses.


Hivers and Strivers: An angel investment group that supports start-up companies founded and run by graduates of the U.S. military academies.

 

These and many other resources are there to help military veterans succeed in the marketplace. Take advantage.


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. 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.

 

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

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