Leave the ad hoc approach behind and follow these simple steps for your branding and ‘socializing’ your business in 2012
For the past week or so I’ve been listening to the Miles Davis station on Pandora and channeling my creative energies as I chart my course for 2012. One day while sitting at my desk in “brand planning” mode, I came across a great book I read earlier this year. Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks Webinars (and More) that Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business(Wiley, 2010) is a treasure trove of ideas for how you can create content, recycle content and “feed the content beast.”
As I flipped through the pages and saw my own notes scribbled in the margins, I thought of how seldom business owners take this strategic approach. One of the things I’ve noticed when working with solopreneurs, small business clients and even non-profit organizations is the overwhelmingly ad hoc approach to creating content for the web. I get it: small business owners are short on time and short on staff. We wear so many hats that it’s easy to forget the importance of planning. But planning is the best way that you stay on message and continually reinforce your brand.
Here are a few simple ways to approach your branding and social media in 2012.
Think Thematically. What’s your brand theme for 2012? My theme is leverage-I’m leveraging all the work I’ve done up to this point to get to the next level. Everything I do will in some way drive this point home. If you really want to go crazy and plan for great content, give each month a theme.
Think Daily. What brand-enforcing content can you create every day? You may love Twitter like I do, so updating your status daily (or even hourly) is no problem for you. But what if your audience is not on Twitter? You can always apply the same approach to LinkedIn or Facebook. Love taking photos from your life or to show off your business? Share a photo each day on Instagram. The point is to do something you already enjoy. Make it fun and don’t overwhelm yourself.
Think Weekly. Every week is a new opportunity for you to supply your audience and potential customers with relevant information that, when done right, will lead them back to you. If you aren’t blogging, 2012 is definitely the year you should start! But what should you write/blog about? I personally love meaty, how-to information that helps me solve problems. I create that kind of content and I look for that kind of content from others. What do you love to find on the web? Inspirational content? Funny content? Chances are, you will enjoy creating what you already love to consume online.
Think Monthly. If you’re in business, you probably publish a monthly newsletter. But are you recycling content from your blog posts or Twitter updates? Does your business host customer appreciation events? Maybe you should. Present much? Get some extra mileage out of those Powerpoint presentation slides, and share them to Slideshare and/or Scribd, creating a monthly presentation share.
Think Quarterly. If your audience can only get it 4 times each year, chances are, they’ll pay attention! What’s going on each quarter in your industry? You could publish a report on quarterly trends or a quarterly ebook with your latest case studies. I love a good quarterly networking event. Last year, I started the networking organization ColorComm: Women of Color in Communications with my friend Lauren Wesley Wilson. We started in May and hosted an invitation-only networking luncheon each quarter following that one in Washington, DC. You could create a similar event to connect industry leaders in your town.
Think Semi-Annually and Annually. What special event can you create once or twice a year? Does your organization coordinate a conference or annual meeting? Do you have an annual sale? Capture the content and create lots of info nuggets from it-tweets, blog posts, videos, etc.
Happy New Year and Happy brand planning to you!
Developing a personal board of directors could be the key to your career or business success and much-needed support
by Vanessa Van Petten, BlackEnterprise.com
Our society emphasizes friends, family and co-workers as essential parts of our emotional and professional support system. Friends can offer distraction and encouragement, family members give unconditional love and co-workers may provide a sense of camaraderie and even professional advice. However, there are times when we need a fourth type of support in the form of a personal board of directors.
A personal board of directors is usually made up of up to six professionals in your age group—but not necessarily in your industry—who meet once a month to for brainstorming and encouragement. In his book, Who’s Got Your Back (Crown Business), Keith Ferrazzi was one of the first to promote this idea of a small, intimate professional networking group.
If you’re not convinced, here are a few reasons a personal board of directors could be worth considering:
- More Honest Than Friends and Family
Friends and family can be wonderfully supportive and encouraging, but the often don’t want to be constructively honest or, if you are talking about Mom, Dad or Grandma, they think everything you do is spectacular no matter what. A personal board of directors is a great way to have a supportive but honest group of individuals to bounce ideas off of, and get advice and constructive criticism from, on everything from reports to resumes.
- Break From Your Industry
Sometimes it is good to take a break from your industry or co-workers and get an outside perspective. Often times this can help bring new energy to your ideas or career and get you to meet new people.
- Creating Accountability
Goals can be hard to keep. With a personal board of directors you can set goals and have your co-members help you stick to them. In a recent working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers confirmed the importance of having a small peer group to depend on. Their research suggests it’s best to motivate groups, not individuals. They compared compensation packages and found that group-incentive pay motivated workers better than individual-incentive compensation.
- Hone Your People-to-People Skills
In this digital age we spend less and less time with others—especially virtual workers. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management have found that groups of people who did well on tests had the most members who were also good at reading each other’s emotions. They had equal contributions to communications and were patient with each other’s answers and issues. One of the best parts of a personal board of directors is that you do not need a leader and you can solve problems as a group better than one of the individual members could by themselves.
- How to start your personal board of directors group?
- Identify between four and six professionals. The hardest part is connecting with a good group. Think of a few professionals you know who may or may not be in your industry who you think are intelligent, open-minded and collaborative. If you can only think of one or two, this is fine too — those members might have a few people in mind to invite.
- Decide how often to meet. I know personal board of director groups that meet every week. Others check in once every six months. Have an idea of how often you want to meet and tell invitees what to expect.
- Define ground rules. Once you have got an group together define some ground rules—no one leader, open support, constructive criticism only, confidentiality etc. You might want to create a Google Doc with the rules and then decide on your structure. I encourage Board of Director groups to go over goals every time they meet and then do goal check-ins with each other.
- Let it grow. You will find that your group will grow on its own—both in terms of rules and members. Remember, you do not want it to be too big because you want everyone to feel supported, but otherwise let members dictate the direction of the group.
by The Network Journal Staff
Become a better business person with these New Year’s resolutions
The year’s end is a perfect time to think about your business’s progress over the past year and your goals for the future. If you want to increase your success in 2013 and boost your business, follow these five New Year’s resolutions.
Promote Your Business Consistently and Regularly
Promoting a small business takes time, money and lots of effort, but it should never be at the bottom of your to-do list. Make promotion a priority in the new year to attract new customers. Resolve to reassess your marketing strategy, hire a marketing expert or create a plan to bring new customers in.
Hold Weekly Business Planning Sessions
Planning is essential to fostering a healthy, growing business. Instead of assessing your business plan once a quarter or once a year, set aside time every week to review, adjust and plan for the future. Use the time to refine old goals or set new directions to stay on track and avoid costly mistakes.
Join a New Networking Group or Business Organization
Interacting with other entrepreneurs sparks new ideas and refines old ones. In the new year, make an effort to reach out to organizations dedicated to your type of business. Being a part of the group will re-energize your business.
Drop What Is Not Working
Resolve to move on from what is not working for you and your business in the new year. Not all products fly off the shelves, not all contractors or suppliers are suited to your business, and not all sales methods work for everyone. Identify what does work, then drop the rest and move on.
Schedule Time for You
Finding a work-personal life balance is essential to your success both within your business and in other aspects of life. Schedule time just for yourself on your calendar to invest in yourself.
What business resolutions are you making this year? Share your goals with our readers in the comment section below!
by Thomas E. Mitchell, Jr.
For a number of years, new Black leadership and media pundits such as radio talk show host Warren Ballentine has emerged preaching the gospel of economic self-reliance; a “let’s do it ourselves” philosophy of economic self-empowerment that requires us to do business with each other to uplift the race.
Chicago businesswoman Maggie Anderson decided to put the philosophy into action several years ago. In the process she and her family made history and dominated national media headlines by applying self-help economics in the Black community.
The Anderson family lived exclusively off Black business and talent and bought only Black made products for an entire year. It was an experiment the Andersons called the Empowerment Experiment (EE) and resulted in a landmark study conducted by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business.
Since the completion of the experiment, Anderson has become the voice of American consumers of all backgrounds who want to make sure their buying power positively impacts struggling minority communities.
Anderson, the author of “Our Black Year,” which chronicled their “Buy Black” journey, was recently the keynote speaker for the 53rd annual Milwaukee Urban League’s Equal Opportunity Day Luncheon held at the Pfister Hotel.
During her address before the community’s and city’s business leaders, heads of community based organizations and civil rights activists, Anderson preached her gospel of economic self-reliance, discussing the Empowerment Experiment and what it was like to live by the pledge to support Black owned businesses, talent and products.
Anderson said the death of Black businesses and consumer support was integration, which she called the perfect storm that ended Black people doing business with each other.
Noting White businesses saw that money was plentiful within our community began to cater to Black consumers using advertising with Black faces, Anderson said we became brand loyal consumers who ignored products made by Black companies.
Also contributing to the demise of Black businesses and Black on Black consumerism was the aggressive recruitment (and Black pursuit of) talented Black people by white corporations.
“Getting a job with a big white company was the dream,” Anderson said during a recent interview with Black media after her address.
“Our parents instilled in us the message of working for someone else…white,” she continued. Anderson said Blacks are now seen as consumers, not business owners.
Plus, Anderson noted the Civil Rights Movement and its leadership made the mistake of focusing solely on civil rights and ignored “silver rights”—economic development of our own community and people.
The “Black flight” to the suburbs and the subsequent abandonment of Black communities created a economic vacuum that was filled by other ethnic groups: Latinos, Asians, Indians, Pakistanis and Arabs.
Instead of doing the Empowerment Experiment for a year, Anderson suggested doing it for a week for no other reason than to raise your consciousness.
Anderson said what impedes Black people from utilizing Black owned businesses is the mentality that “only white ice gets cold; we distrust Black businesses.
Black businesses are seen as inferior by Black people.
While Anderson did encounter some bad Black businesses, her first encounter doing the experiment was awful, most of her experiences were positive.
“If you do business with three Black businesses and two are bad, don’t say, ‘all Black businesses are bad.’ You don’t say that about White businesses. Such an attitude is detrimental for good Black businesses.
Anderson suggests Black consumers keep going to good, quality Black businesses in order to break down the negative stereotype Black businesses are burdened with.
She also suggests aspiring Black business people focus on newer markets and industries not stereotypically associated with the community like low-end, hold-in-the-wall soul food joints, candy and liquor stores, barber and beauty shops.
Such businesses—where the owner has little to no business training and no investors—are too common and offer substandard services that reflect the attitude it has towards a clientele with low self-esteem and poor.
Simple steps to help you focus for the new year.
by C. Daniel Baker, Black Enterprise
As the calendar turns from 2012 to 2013, small business owners often find themselves finishing up projects, closing deals and reviewing the past year. Between following the outcome of the fiscal cliff crisis, balancing holiday time with running your business, and other last minute issues, most owners are exhausted. The clean slate of a new year brings the chance to restart, rejuvenate and reinvigorate ourselves and our small businesses.
First, small business owners should take time to reflect on 2012. What were some of your businesses’ biggest accomplishments? What were some of your biggest mistakes? Owners would do well to celebrate their successes as well as figure out what went wrong, before rushing into the new year.
Entrepreneurs should use January as a chance to review their clients, customers and contacts. Make a list of persons and companies you’d like to partner with in the new year. Pinpoint the most important people you’ve worked with in the last year, whether they’re colleagues, interns or customers. Use this time to let them know just how much you appreciate them and what exactly they did for you. Good relationships are critical to future networking so time spent now can reward dividends.
American Express OPEN Forum listed several other ways entrepreneurs can recharge in the New Year.
For the entrepreneur, this time of year typically means a mad dash to wrap-up remaining projects, close deals, and squeeze in time for family and friends. With winter’s shortened days, it starts to feel like time accelerates faster than ever—leaving you less and less time to accomplish your year-end goals. However, amidst the holiday chaos, it is possible to stay grounded and set the foundation for a successful year to come. Here are six ways to help you recharge your business for the New Year.
1. Get your priorities in line. Time management is a year-round challenge for business owners, but schedules get even tighter during the holidays. That’s why it’s more important than ever to know your priorities. Set a stopwatch for 20 minutes and write down everything that needs to be done before the calendar turns to 2013. Then, give yourself another 10 minutes to assess which of those tasks are the most important to yourself, your business and your family. Keep that list in mind as you start each day—and make sure all your activities are centered around those core priorities.
2. Ditch the New Year’s resolutions. A FranklinCovey survey found that 80 percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions will break them. And a third never make it to the end of January. If you’re one of the many people who have left a string of resolutions behind, it’s time for a new approach. Rather than creating your resolutions for 2013, use the end of the calendar year to reflect on your business and market. What were some of the best things that your business accomplished this year? What were some of the biggest mistakes? Don’t rush to begin planning the new year until you’ve celebrated your wins and acknowledged your mistakes.
3. Evaluate your year as a business leader. In addition to reflecting on your business, this is a good time to reflect on yourself. After all, as an entrepreneur, you don’t exactly get a yearly performance review. Being as objective as possible, write down your strongest characteristics as a leader—and your weakest. Then, think about how each of these characteristics impacted your business, team members and partners during the year. This type of objective self-assessment can help you pinpoint areas to improve in 2013.
4. Build important connections. As a good entrepreneur, you’re looking out for interesting opportunities around every corner. And the end of the year offers a bevy of parties and events. Make some time to take advantage of these networking events and meet new people. Sometimes a simple party is the key to a great new client, collaboration or partnership that will pay dividends in the new year.
5. Show the love. During this hectic time, it’s all too easy to become inwardly focused—where you’re thinking more about crossing things off your list than what (or who) really matters. Of course, holidays are the time for family and friends, but I’m also talking about the professional relationships that matter to you. Think about the most important people you’ve worked with throughout the year—whether it’s a devoted assistant or a colleague who keeps introducing you to great contacts. Then, let them know just how much you appreciate them.
6. Unplug and recharge your batteries. No matter how busy your schedule gets, every entrepreneur should take some much-needed time away from the office and digital devices. Take advantage, since this is often the one time of year when people expect you won’t be working (unless, of course, you’re involved in some kind of seasonal business). Downtime is the only real way to hit the reset button, both personally and professionally. And it will open the door to fresh perspectives and new inspiration.
Yandy Smith, entertainment manager to the stars, cast member of Love and Hip Hop (Image: Vh1)
by Yandy Smith
So it’s the holiday season, but many of us may not feel the holiday spirit. Inflation is at an all-time high, the job market is still at a low, and natural disasters have devastated our businesses, communities and home. Considering the climate of the country, I can understand why many of us might be feeling more like the Grinch and less like Santa. However, in spite of the gloom that may be hard to ignore, we should remember that above all, the holiday season is a time to appreciate your family and give thanks for all the positives in your life.
I know you’re used to getting business advice from me, but sometimes in order to do good business you need to take the time to appreciate the things that matter most. So my advice this month is to make your personal life your business for the holiday season. If that shocked you, well, what’s coming next is going to blow you away: Stow away those laptops, put the BlackBerrys and iPhones on silent and be thankful for the simple things like life, love and family.
So much time is spent all year trying to make a better way for ourselves and our families that we often end up neglecting the very things we cherish the most. The hustle to achieve the American dream leaves many of us working long hours, taking more business trips and spending most of the days attached to our mobile devices. I read somewhere recently that 88% of American adults own a cellphone and/or laptop, and those mobile devices played a central role in their daily lives. In some cases, the devices became more of a priority than family and home life.
Sixty-seven percent of cellphone owners find themselves checking their phone for messages, alerts, or calls more frequently than monitoring their children at play, even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating. Some 18% of cellphone owners say they do this “frequently.”
Seventy-one percent of owners use their phone, check messages or emails, or get entertained by social networks during dinner and parenting time (i.e. homework time), and 44% of cellphone owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls, text messages, or other updates during the night. Twenty-nine percent of cellphone owners describe it as “something they can’t imagine living without.”
Are you alarmed or shocked by these statistics? Probably not if your anything like me. These results, sad to say, are the norm for most of us. So my goal with this blog is not to ignite the hustlapreneur in you, but challenge you to take a day off from the grind. Instead of spending these few days off closing out a few deals and finishing up those overdue projects, turn off the business phone and indulge in an abundance of some much-needed, uninterrupted family and personal time. Hustla’s orders! You can thank me later.
New site helps those looking to create jobs in their communities
by C. Daniel Baker, BlackEnterprise.com
Today, the Small Business Administration and the Department of Labor announced a new website to help states offer Self-Employment Assistance programs to those looking to create jobs in their communities.
The website named Self-Employment Assistance Center has the tagline “Building Tomorrow’s Entrepreneurs Through Self-Employment Assistance.” The goals of the website, as outlined on its homepage is to provide another reemployment alternative for unemployed workers, promote job creation and help grow state and local economies.
On the website, perspective entrepreneurs can find toolkits from the SBA which offer courses and training on how to start a business, prepare a business plan and learn the basics of franchising. Other topics available on the site include raising capital for a new business, entrepreneurial marketing, tax info and other information to assist a new entrepreneur.
In a printed statement on the Department of Labor’s blog, Karen Mills, the Administrator of the Small Business Administration, said: “ The entrepreneurial spirit is what drives this country. In fact, small businesses and start-ups are responsible for creating two out of every three new jobs in the United States. And more than half of all working Americans own or work for a small business. That’s why helping to create an environment where more businesses are easily able to start and succeed has been an important goal for this administration.”
This website comes as part of an initiative from the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, signed by President Obama earlier this year.
Executive talks brand-building at a global startup
by Janell Hazelwood, BlackEnterprise.com
Many party promoters love throwing a good party and cashing in their take from the door admissions or the bar—if they’re lucky. But what about giving people a full experience that will ensure long-term wealth and business success? Nowadays, just putting together a club night a your local hotspot won’t make you one of the heavy hitters of the events and marketing industry. It’s a good idea to become a brand that offers an multidimensional experience that stands out from the rest.
Take a cue from someone’s who’s made it happen: executive director and president of corporate event planning at Royalty Lifestyle Group, Soloman Nnanna. He and his fellow executives and staff offer marketing, entertainment, and other lifestyle services for clients including Arik Airlines and MoneyGram, and the company has expanded from hosting and managing events to becoming a full-service international brand. Here are a few quick tips to help you forge success:
Motivation: “Never let someone who has never done it, tell you it can’t be done. Starting a business is very stressful and there will be failures along the way but the level of success you achieve will be determined by how quickly you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep trucking.”
Relationship-Building: “Our startup capital came from my personal savings, but because of the relationships we were able to cultivate, Royalty Lifestyle Group remained sustainable and soon after, profitable.”
Brand Reputation: “People are more inclined to work with you if they feel you have their best interest at heart. [Their] time is valuable. Be careful with burnt bridges and scorned associates because the business circle is small and you never know where you might meet again.”
by Carolyn M. Brown
When Robert Joseph opened R J Construction Co. Inc. in 1993, he capitalized the business using $20,000 in personal savings. Three investors (relatives and former co-workers he has since bought out) also had an equity stake in the company. At the time, Joseph did his personal banking with Wells Fargo, so he opened up his business account there as well.
R J Construction, in Missouri City, Texas, is a general contractor/commercial construction company that works on projects such as industrial wastewater treatment plants and sanitary pump stations. “We were five years into the business before we were profitable, generating $1 million in revenues,” says the 49-year-old civil engineer. “That’s when we established an initial line of credit with Wells Fargo for $100,000.” For most construction companies, winning a bid on a contract is just the beginning, since capital is needed up front to purchase materials. Joseph used the credit line as working capital so he could meet his contractual obligations.
Today, R J Construction’s largest client is the nearby City of Houston. For the past eight or nine years the company has carried a workload of about $7 million a year and completes about $4 million of that. “What we do is specialized, so there’s always been work,” Joseph says. R J Construction taps its revolving line of credit—now $350,000—roughly three times a year, but the funds get paid back within three to six months. “Some projects are more equipment intensive than others,” says Joseph, whose company employs 12 full-time workers including his wife of 27 years, Barbara, who works as the office manager. “We also like to make sure our vendors get paid up front,” Joseph adds.
As Joseph’s example illustrates, businesses typically use a line of credit to maintain or expand a business—not start a new one. A line of credit provides business owners much-needed short-term working capital to meet payroll, pay vendors, or purchase raw materials. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, 86% of small businesses use some type of credit from a financial institution—76% possess a credit card, 47% a credit line, and 31% a business loan. Failure to obtain credit is associated with having low credit scores, a large number of mortgages outstanding, fewer unencumbered assets, and being located in states hit hardest by the housing bubble.
Loan officers need to understand the condition of the business and its prospects, says Bank of America small business executive Robb Hilson. Shaun Coard, senior vice president and business banking manager at Wells Fargo, says the owner’s financial information is used to determine his or her net worth; the company’s is used to analyze trends in annual sales, net income, and equity in the company.
Coard says the basics consist of three years’ of business tax returns and the business owner’s personal tax returns; three years’ of financial statements, including balance sheets (listing the company’s assets and liabilities); and income statements (listing revenues minus expenses to determine profit or loss). Some lenders will also request a statement of cash flow (charting movement of funds in and out).
What can business owners do to improve their chances? “Present a logical business plan that demonstrates their ability to repay the obligation,” says Hilson. “Maintain good financial controls, and don’t try to completely kill profits to manage taxes. Banks can’t lend on cash flows that don’t get formally reported.”
Here are five key areas loan officers will examine before granting you a line of credit.
How will a credit line help your business?
Lenders look at how the funds will be used, says Hilson. The most common uses include funding inventory, accounts receivable, and capital equipment. They’ll also look at what the business does—who does it sell to and buy from—as well as ask general questions about the company’s business model.
What are your annual net revenues?
You must prove that the business has lasting earning power, which means you’re generating net income. Yearlong monthly cash-flow statements will reflect this net income. Lenders like to see enough ongoing cash flow to cover all expenses, including the proposed loan payments, says Hilson. A seasonal lull can be reconciled, but a drastic drop in revenues year after year would cause concern.
How far out are your receivables?
Typically, a credit line is secured with accounts receivables. “We want to see current, detailed accounts receivable aging—a report listing accounts receivable owed from each of the company’s customers that indicate the number of days outstanding categorized as current, more than 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days,” says Coard. Based on eligible collateral, this report is often used to determine the limit of the line of credit. She says that most financial institutions will not include accounts receivable that are more than 90 days past due when determining the line of credit. In addition, if the company’s accounts receivable include what’s known as a concentration, meaning more than 20% of the total accounts receivable balance is due from one customer, the amount of the concentration may either be discounted or excluded from the eligible accounts receivable.
What’s your debt–service coverage ratio?
Coard notes, “We look for 1.25 to 1 debt–service coverage ratio. This means for every dollar of debt that you owe or you want to finance, we want you to have $1.25 of income.” Coard adds that the business owner’s financial net worth and liquidity are important when the lender is looking for a secondary source of repayment. “We analyze your assets and liabilities to help determine if borrowing additional financing is or isn’t going to be a problem for you.”
What’s your personal credit history?
Yes, banks review your company’s performance, but businesses don’t pay the bank back, people do. “The business owner’s credit score and payment history are indicators of the business owner’s reliability,” says Coard. If you make consistently late payments that can’t be reasonably justified, then chances are your loan request will get denied. Coard acknowledges that the past few years have been difficult for business owners. She advises business owners to always communicate with their lenders to inform them of both positive and negative events that affect their business.
Build A Rapport
One way entrepreneurs can ease the pain of poor credit is to establish a rapport with a banker long before they apply for a loan. This isn’t the teller whose kids’ names you know when you deposit your checks. This is a business banker who understands your industry—a trusted adviser on par with your accountant or lawyer. Ask a branch manager for a referral. Then tell the business banker who you are, what you do, and ask how he or she can help grow your company. You should meet with this person regularly.
It was a long-term relationship with Liberty Bank & Trust Co. (No. 5 on the be banks list with $464 million in assets) president Alden J. McDonald Jr. that enabled Norm and Michelle Gobert to acquire financing for their business, Signs Now New Orleans. Located downtown near the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Signs Now New Orleans produces promotional banners for events and advertising vehicle wraps for buses and streetcars. The Goberts recently obtained a $300,000 bank loan to boost their business’ sign-making capabilities. They bought equipment to produce signage and displays that had previously been outsourced and to make their production processes more efficient. But beyond the owners’ ongoing personal relationship with their banker, Signs Now New Orleans has a history of profitability that spans more than 20 years, even during tough times that included a storefront rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.