Category: Business Growth

Help for Veteran Owned Small Business

What should I know if I’m a veteran and own a small business? 

With over five-million employees, veteran owned businesses have a huge impact on the U.S. economy. If you are a veteran and have already started a business, then the hardest part is already in motion. If you are contemplating owning your own business, the good news is there are resources available to help veterans (and their spouses) get started.

Additionally, the government offers assistance. They post an extensive list of federal regulations, qualifications, and other information that, honestly shouldn’t take months to read, but may. Source out what you need at the following link and like eating an elephant, do it one bite at a time. Before you realize, you will be full of knowledge. You can check out that list of regulations HERE: Code of Federal Regulations

 

How does the SBA help veteran owned small businesses?

The small business veteran’s enhancement act of 2018 directs:  “U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to give certain veteran-owned small businesses (VOSBs) access to federally owned surplus personal property, pursuant to a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the SBA, U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), National Association for State Agencies for Surplus Property (NASASP), State Agencies for Surplus Property (SASP), and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Each organization plays a role in supporting VOSBs who seek donated property for use in their small businesses.”

With nearly the entire alphabet used for acronyms, remember the letters aren’t meant to intimidate but are used to shorten lengthy names of agency and departments. This should help cut down months of reading the documents they provide. If you are connected to the SBA, and Paris SBDC, they can further explain the documents and save you time.

Per the Office of Veterans Business Development:The Office of Veterans Business Development’s (OVBD) mission is to maximize the availability, applicability, and usability of small business programs for Veterans, Service-Disabled Veterans, Reserve Component Members, and their dependents or survivors. OVBD is SBA’s liaison with the veteran’s business community; provides policy analysis and reporting; and is an Ombudsman for veteran entrepreneurs. OVBD has a number of programs and services to assist aspiring and existing veteran entrepreneurs such as training, counseling and mentorship, and oversight of Federal procurement programs for Veteran-Owned and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses.”

Read more about the OVBD at: Office of Veterans Business Development

 

What are the advantages of a veteran-owned small business?

There are many advantages veteran small business owners have. Only a few are listed below:

  • Government Contracts: In coordination with the SBA, veterans are assured that a fair proportion of the total purchases and contracts for property, services, and construction for the Government in each industry category are placed with small business concerns; or assured that a fair proportion of the total sales of Government property is made to small business concerns.
  • Skills: The knowledge and abilities you acquired through your military service is looked at as an advantage by banks. When this is compared to how a non-veteran owned business, you appear more appealing on paper. Lending agencies know that it may take years for other new business owners to learn many of the skills you already have.
  • SBA Loans: Through the Veterans Advantage loan program, businesses have access to upward of five million dollars with ten-year terms available through the SBA 7 (a) Veterans’ loan.
  • Grow with Google: Identify your business with Google as veteran-owned and you will gain access to marketing tips, lessons, and can be connect with global markets.
  • Tax Incentives: Businesses that hire veterans are allowed a tax incentive. See your tax advisor to take advantage of these.
  • Acquire Surplus Equipment: The government offers opportunities to veterans to acquire surplus equipment. However, before dreaming of that camouflage hummer you need to start deliveries of those special pecan sandstorm cookies your business makes, check the regulations.

 

What is a good small business idea for a veteran?

The founder of Pepperidge Farm, Margaret Rudkin, needed to feed a sickly child with allergies to many processed foods. With skills as a baker, she sold bread on the street and made nutritious meals for her child. Her small kitchen baking efforts grew into a business as she added more products. Eventually she sold the company for millions. This kind of problem solving has built many successful companies.

Like any prospective business owner, you should develop guidelines with a solid business plan. Contemplate your interests and what your skill sets are. Find things you do that others cannot or look for opportunities, like repurposing government property into a useful civilian product if regulations allow.

Often the best business ideas are created by discovering what people in your community need or are missing.

 

What is the Texas Veterans Commission?

The Texas Veterans Commission is an advocacy organization for Texas veterans, their families, and survivors.  Per their website they post the following philosophy: The Texas Veterans Commission will aggressively advocate for Texas veterans, their families, and survivors.

Here is a short list of what the TVC provides:

  • Quality Service:
    • Claims Representation and Counseling
    • Veterans Employment Services
    • Education for Veterans
    • Veteran Entrepreneur Programs
    • Health Care Advocacy
    • Veterans Mental Health Program
    • Woman-Veteran Programs
    • Fund for Veterans’ Assistance
  • Training the veteran workforce
  • Networking ability – to connect veterans throughout the state
  • Coordination of efforts between federal, state and local government as well as private organizations that provide veteran services
  • Veteran Advocacy to maintain a higher quality of life

Discover more about TVC HERE: Texas Veterans Commission

 

Paris SBDC has resources for Veteran’s:

Check out our Veteran’s Resource Page for information on New Veteran-Owned Business

 

If you are a veteran and you own a small business, or if you are thinking of starting a small business, we can help!  Please contact us at the Small Business Development Center – SBDC – Serving Paris area:  Lamar, Hunt, Hopkins, Delta, and Red River counties.

 

Women Entrepreneurs – Managing Work/Life Balance

Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, is a billionaire businesswoman and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. As a female entrepreneur whose lingerie invention created a multi-million dollar business, she understand the challenges many women face at work. It wasn’t until her health became affected, as well as her ability to think clearly, that she realized she needed a better home-work balance. Sara was quoted in a recent article done by the Balance Project: “I just layered the full-time job of being a mom on top of another full-time job at Spanx and then wondered why I was so exhausted. I started to notice changes in my health and couldn’t think as clearly. I feel like this happens to a lot of women. We just assume we will figure it out. There is no manual, and no way to truly prepare.”

Sound familiar? Obviously, you don’t need to be the founder of a multi-million dollar business to feel the strain of work-life balance, it happens to all of us who have a job and a life outside of work (or would like to have one.)

 

You aren’t alone in the work-life balance struggle!

Women-owned businesses have increased 114% in the US over the last 20 years and despite the talk about equality, women still do far more work at home than men. There is a lot of pressure placed on female entrepreneurs which can affect their performance in the workplace. As Sara Blakely said, eventually the strain began to affect her health. To fix these stressors in any woman’s life, they must be ready to restructure their day-to-day tasks and strive for the right attitude while allowing for flexibility. In today’s blog, we’ll give you a few things to implement to help you achieve a better balance in your very busy life.

How do you find that work-life balance everyone is looking for?

We’ve done our research and have found the 7 most proven tips and techniques to help you achieve a more comfortable balance between work and home/life.

1 – Give yourself a break!

We all do it – we look at other women, especially those who make it look easy…and feel like we are failing in comparison. Stop doing that! Any time you compare yourself, whether it be positively or negatively, it will hamper your growth and stunt your self-confidence. Instead, focus on your goals and on the things you, yourself excel at; it will help you achieve more.

2 – Learn to say no.

If it helps to put a magnet on your fridge that says: “Stop me before I volunteer again”, do it! It is easy, especially as a mother and wife, to accept tasks out of guilt or a sense of obligation. Evaluate your priorities at home and at work and look at what is on your “to do” list. Before you commit to anything, (like becoming the PTA chair) take a hard look at what you are agreeing to do. If the activity doesn’t benefit you and your business, or if it will cause you more stress than you really want in your life – say no. Accept the tasks that bring your joy and are meaningful to you – and only if you honestly have time for them.

3 – Schedule your time.

Look at your current schedule and identify what is working and what is not. If Ms. Talks-a-Lot from the store next door is taking valuable time out of your schedule, figure out a way to limit your exposure to her. Look at timewasters, like social media. Are you getting sucked into those Face Book rabbit holes? Set a timer and allow yourself a specific amount of time for each activity. Delegate the tasks that can be given to someone else and try to schedule like-tasks together.

4 – Accept help.

We know you can do most of your tasks better than anyone else. For instance, have you re-loaded the dishwasher after your significant other did it “wrong?” Part of accepting help is accepting the fact that the task may not be done the same way you do it, or to your specifications. However, the end result is the same: the dishes got clean, even if those spoons were put in the wrong container or if the glasses weren’t stacked according to how you put them away.

5 – Get Real.

You may not achieve that perfect life-balance…but you can get close to it with less stress. Accept the fact that some things will be late, that you may not be able to complete some tasks, or that some things will not go as planned. Try to keep in mind that flexibility is key.

6 – Have Healthy Habits.

It’s already stressful, trying to juggle all things work and life related; make sure you are taking care of your health too!

  • Set a regular bedtime schedule and stick with it (it’s so important to get the rest you need.)
  • Exercise regularly, rather it’s a walk at lunch or an elliptical zoom call. Makes sure you schedule your exercise routine into your schedule.
  • Eat well. Are you eating empty calories that cause the sugar crash right around 2pm? Instead, grab a healthy alternative and be mindful of the food you are consuming.
  • Don’t forget mental health. Employing a work or life-coach can make a major difference in your balance. Counselors and psychiatrists can help you understand if what you are dealing with is “normal” and give you tips on how to have and create a better balance.

7- Learn to Delegate.

Sure, it sounds easy, but delegating is one of the hardest things to do for women entrepreneurs. Why? The truth is, you are an entrepreneur because you CAN do it better! It’s difficult to give those tasks away, but it will help you in the long run. Start small, assigning tasks to individuals at work and at home, then start to look for more opportunities to take jobs off of your own plate. Hire help for specific tasks rather it be a driver to pick up your kids each day, or a housekeeper to cook and/or clean.

 

Achieving the perfect work-life balance takes…work! The most successful women entrepreneurs will tell you it’s a constant “work in progress.” It is worth it in the long run, so keep trying!

 

For additional information and ideas on how to achieve and maintain the perfect life-work balance, please contact us at the Small Business Development Center – SBDC – Serving Paris area: Lamar, Hunt, Hopkins, Delta, and Red River counties.

How to Grow Your Small Business by Exporting

According to the U.S. Small Business administration, “Two thirds of the world’s purchasing power is in foreign countries.” On average, U.S. exporters grow faster than non-exporting businesses. Exporting can help small businesses diversify and become less reliant on the U.S. economy or income from any single region. However, there are some risks involved like sudden increases in tariffs during a trade war or countries copying your product to sell locally.

 

What is exporting?

Exports are goods and services produced in one country and then sold to a buyer in another country. Exporting is an easy way to access the buying power of international markets. Exporting is an excellent way to create a sustainable business model.

 

When should I consider exporting?

Looking to grow your small business and develop a diverse source of income? Exporting may be a good choice.  U.S. made products are typically of higher quality than products made elsewhere. If your product is in high demand, the sooner you begin exporting the better. Consider the following:

  • The U.S. exports nearly two-trillion dollars’ worth of goods and services annually.
  • Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers are located outside the U.S.
  • With today’s technology, access to exporting can be easy. E-commerce through the internet, improvements in logistics, free trade agreements with twenty countries and a slew of government export assistance makes exporting achievable for small businesses.
  • Exporting can be profitable. On average companies that export make more than their non-exporting competitors. Sales grow faster, and companies that export tend to see less economic fluctuations or seasonal selling as their business cycles smooth out.
  • Companies that export become more valuable should selling the business be a consideration.
  • Companies that export are more likely to stay in business.

 

Which businesses are best for exporting?

Some of the top exported items are agriculture, clothing and textiles, beauty products, meat and seafood, machinery, chemical products, and petroleum products. It has been proven time and again, that US exports are popular world-wide. If your product has even a moderate interest in the US, chances are it will sell world-wide as well.

 

What are examples of exports?

Ben and Shelby Stilltender make a superb sour mash bourbon. With a recipe passed down since the days when Ben’s grandfather first began making moonshine, the liquor is prized by fine restaurants and retailers across the country. A few years back, a diplomat from Spain discovered the drink during a visit to the U.S. Upon his return, he contacted the Stilltenders and arranged to buy a case of bourbon to be shipped to his home in Barcelona. Never having done this before, Ben and Shelby contacted an export management company or EMC to take care of all necessary paperwork and arrange shipping. Additionally, the EMC sourced out a distributor in Spain and the Stilltender’s one-time order turned into full time exporting. Seeing their profits soar, they began exporting the bourbon to eight different countries.

Other examples of exporting are wheat farmed in the U.S. and then sold to China. Jet engines produced by the Boeing company and sold to buyers around the world.

 

How do I export my business’ products?

The Small Business Association (SBA) can help you get started with exporting products and services. They can also offer loans and working capital if necessary. Paris SBDC is also here to help, check out our resources section on exporting for the following:

Export Management Companies (EMC) are a resource as well. They typically charge a fee or collect a percentage of the exported item.

The government has a list of programs designed to bridge new markets and help small businesses find international buyers.

Before choosing to export a product or service, read through the government’s export regulations at the US Export Regulations Website. This may help you determine if you have a suitable item for export as well as offer guidance on how best to start exporting. There you will also find information on licensing, tariffs and more.

Another resource to help you get started is the International Trade Administration.

 

For additional information or resources on how to export goods in your small business, or on how to grow your exporting business, please contact us at the Small Business Development Center – SBDC – Serving Paris area:  Lamar, Hunt, Hopkins, Delta, and Red River counties.

 

Teambuilding for Small Business

Check out our free online Teambuilding class!

What is teambuilding?

Teambuilding is a collective process often based around doing various activities or collaborating on tasks to enhance social relations and define roles within a team. The goal of teambuilding is to better interpersonal relationships as this, above all, helps improve productivity and overall satisfaction with one another and the jobs they do.

Early research on teambuilding came about in the nineteen-twenties. Known as the Hawthorne Studies, this experimental managerial strategy focused on the socio-psychological aspect of human behavior in organizations. What they discovered is “people ” as later publications claimed. Until this time, workers were treated more like machines. Having the opportunity to speak freely about one’s job helped them to see eye to eye with supervisors and fellow workers. This created a highly productive environment, well beyond monetary incentives.

 

Why is teambuilding in a small business important?

Of all organizational activities, studies show team development to be the most effective strategy for improving organizational performance.

Jack and Marsha owned a small business with eighteen employees. Marsha prided herself as being tough as nails, someone to be respected and feared. To make small personal gains, staff kowtowed to Marsha, and she intern pitted them against each other favoring the few who met her demands.

Jack felt developing respect, a positive attitude, and keys to improving the business came by allowing employees stewardship over their jobs. With staff making decisions on how to perform tasks in their own unique way, a sense of ownership developed and for a while it helped the business grow.

At weekly staff meetings, the conflict in management styles grew apparent when employees began to complain that the monetary incentives controlled by Marsha were unfair. To remedy the conflict, Jack relied on anecdotal stories and motivation exercises to engage the staff.

Marsha despised the meetings and argued with Jack over allowing the “underlings” to have a say in how the business should operate. Like children caught between divorcing parents the work environment eventually fractured.

In Jack and Marsha’s business, the closest exercise to a teambuilding experience was the weekly cleaning day where all were expected to oversee individual tasks until the work was done. Of course, this was Jack’s idea, Marsh claimed, because he was too cheap to pay someone to clean.

 

Other than the business owner’s names, the story is true and an example of what often happens with conflicting management styles.  Had this company created a teambuilding experience where the management and staff worked together and helped the business grow, the company may have survived.

 

What makes teambuilding successful?

Crucial elements for effective teambuilding require the following:

  • Management to show a personal interest in each person’s achievement.
  • The manager takes pride in achievements made by the team.
  • Leaders should work together with the team to develop stewardship or responsible management while letting them set their own conditions of work.
  • Managers should faithfully report achievements made (acknowledgement).
  • Each team member needs to develop a sense of pride in their own achievements and find satisfaction through outsiders showing interest in their work.
  • The team should not feel pressured to make changes.
  • Should any changes be made, the team should be consulted first.
  • Successful teams develop confidence and a shared honesty.

 

How do I start teambuilding?

Team Building starts with setting goals with emphasis on clear objectives. Set both team and individual goals together with defining factors for success or failure. Utilize incremental tests or use charting to track progress along the way.

Clarify duties and roles: Defining roles among the team reduces ambiguity. It also creates a sense of independence and value as goals are reached. Had Marsha and Jack decided who was in charge and then each fulfilled their roles without cross-communication, they might have saved their business.

Identify problems: In the development of openness and confidence problem solving is necessary.

Communicate: Giving and receiving support builds up the team and lessens interpersonal conflicts. Use the team leader or a facilitator to guide the conversation and develop mutual trust and openness.

 

I only have 1 or 2 employees; how can I team build?

Anything a small business can do to boost morale and create a sense of inclusiveness is good for overall team strengthening. Here are some ideas for teambuilding with a smaller team:

  • Do a collaboration activity that requires each person to add or enhance the work of another.
  • Practice resolving an ongoing company issue or puzzlement by utilizing problem-solving skills as a team.
  • Get to know each other with something as simple as telling “campfire” stories. This can help break down barriers and build trust and confidence.
  • Do an in-office trivia game that relies on observance of fellow employees to meet correct answers.

The internet is full of suggestions for teambuilding events. To stave off eyerolls and racing for the exits, choose things of interest that are fun.

 

Want more ideas on how to build cohesive teams?

We have a fantastic series going on RIGHT NOW called The Building Blocks of Cohesive Teams.  It’s not to late to attend this FREE online course and there are still several sessions left to attend!  Click the link above to register.

 

For additional information and ideas on how to team build in your small business, or for fresh, new ideas to help your team bond, please contact us at the Small Business Development Center – SBDC – Serving Paris area:  Lamar, Hunt, Hopkins, Delta, and Red River counties.

Government Contracting Steps To Take

LOOK!!! 

Join us for a FREE online Q&A about Government Contracting for Small Business

When? May 17, 2022 @ 10am

Today’s blog, part 2 of Government Contracting for Small Business, will help you understand the steps you need to take to get a government contract.

It’s not too late to get more information!  Click HERE to find out more!

 

How can I get a government contract?

With the time it takes to secure an award, it may be several years before profits offset the investment spent in obtaining contracts. Utilizing the knowledge of a professional at Paris SBDC or the SBA is a good way to navigate obtaining government contracts and save time.

  • Start small: Once you have identified the products and services an agency is looking for, it is best to start small.
  • Develop a track record with smaller agencies and local awards. Going for big dollar awards at the federal level may put your company in over its head while trying to meet the deadlines and production levels required.
    • Remember, the government tends to go with what they know or are familiar with. Early development can help get your foot in the door to bigger opportunities through creating reliability and recognition.
  • Focus your approach: There may be eight or ten areas where you feel your company can apply for an award. Work on two or three possible contracts where your business excels in quality, not just competitive pricing.

 

How to prepare your proposal for a government contract:

On the SAM.gov site there are three types of proposals:

  • Request for Quotation (RFQ): While typically used for a more simplified government contract of $150,000 or less, the information requirement may be greater. The SAM.Gov site offers advice for RFQ’s.
  • Request for Proposal (RFP): This applies to larger, negotiated acquisitions. There can be some give and take as the process unfolds until the government agency and prospective vendor come to mutually agreed pricing and terms.
  • Invitation for Bid (IFB): This is a sealed solicitation for government procured contracts.

Keep in mind, there is no negotiation, and the submitted proposal is considered final. The price point is often the difference seen between the qualified bidders. A few more things to do before you submit your proposal:

  • Get your paperwork in order: With strict guidelines and regulations, having complete, accurate paperwork is paramount to winning an award. Don’t second guess, ask questions if necessary and above all, leave nothing out.
  • Build relationships: An agency liaison or point of contact may help build company awareness.
    • Connect with agency decision makers through procurement conferences, industry events and contract matchmaking events.
    • Connect with a bid matching service. More than three hundred local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) offices serve the country. Find one near you at APTAC. You can also obtain a private service for a more detailed approach to procurement matching.

 

What are the easiest government contracts to get?

A one-person business owner with little track record is not likely to be awarded a government contract. If you are starting small, consider contracting with a larger company that already has work with the government.  While most contracts tend to go to those with a foot in the door, subcontracting with a winning bidder is a way to gain necessary experience, building that all-important track record and move up the rankings.

With that in mind, there are some government projects that are too small and often overlooked. Check the SAM.Gov site for janitorial, plumbing trades, and even painting procurements. Word has it, if you work hard, even at a loss with the goal of bigger contracts, you can get a foothold to greater awards even at this level.

 

What is a GSA vendor and how do I get one?

A GSA or General Services Administration approved vendor are qualified companies that go through the GSA schedule acquisition process.  Follow the earlier step listed here to gain a SAM.gov registration number. Next:

  • Check your eligibility
  • Be prepared to provide three contractor performance assessment reports or 3-5 customer references.
  • Provide complete statements of work and projects for similar projects.
  • Products must be Trade Agreements Act (TAA) compliant, from an approved TAA country.
  • Business must have fair and reasonable pricing.
  • Verify that you are not disbarred on the SAM.gov site.

Once you meet these qualifications, contact a GSA consultant, and start the Multiple Award Schedule Offer Process.

 

Don’t forget to get more information!

Gregory James, of UTA Cross Timbers Procurement Center gave an online Q&A addressing general questions on:

• Government set asides
• Minority owned business
• 8a certification
• Government bid process
• Criteria with Cross Timbers
For more information from the experts in government contracting, please contact Gregory James, of UTA Cross Timbers Procurement Center!
Want even more information?  Check out our resource center for more on Government Contracting!

For additional information on government contracting, how they work, the steps to take, or how to get a government contract, please contact us at the Small Business Development Center – SBDC – Serving Paris area:  Lamar, Hunt, Hopkins, Delta, and Red River counties.

Government Contracting for Small Business

ATTENTION!!!  Don’t miss the online Q&A about Government Contracting for Small Business!

This 2-part blog will get you ready to join this great online workshop which will help you to determine your next steps and will address general questions about Government Contracting!

It’s FREE! Click HERE to find out more!

What is government contracting?

The federal government is the largest customer in the world. Like contracts for goods and services found in the public sector, government contracts are made available by law to small businesses. Since the country runs on the backbone of small businesses, some ninety-nine percent in two-thousand twenty-one, the government wants to do business with small companies for many reasons including:

  • Ensuring big businesses don’t force smaller companies out of business.
  • Gain access to innovations and new ideas that smaller companies tend to provide.
  • Support the economic development and the job creation that drives our economy.
  • To provide an opportunity for disadvantaged socio-economic groups.

 

Just finding the biggest customer in the world is enough to send the likes of Joe Toolmaker to his workshop to build as many left-handed monkey wrenches as possible. For certainly there must be a need for those? Susie Muffin-Maker also believes she has an opportunity for a contract to feed troops or hungry federal workers. On the internet, she has sourced out thousands of muffin pans, ovens, and mixing equipment. However, overextending a credit-card may be tempting for Susie, and pressing the “buy now” button could put her business at risk.

The thought of landing a big, lucrative government contract for a small business may sound like a panacea for a company trying to grow.  However, there are greater hurdles than just red tape to clear before actualizing any size contract available.

 

What do I need to know about government contracting in my small business?

If you are contemplating the pursuit of government contracts for your small business, first and foremost you must be a business registered in the United States, with few exceptions. A few other important things a small business needs to consider are:

  • Track record: The government is more likely to award contracts to reliable companies with strong track records for producing what they need, on time and at a competitive rate.
  • Register: A small business must register for a Unique Entity Identifier number (UEI). This twelve-character alpha-numeric identity is given when you register through SAM at SAM.GOV (link)
  • Identification: Government contracts are based on products or services they need. Research and identify what you produce and what agencies may be looking to procure. You will need to match this product with a North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code. This can be found at the S. Census Bureau.
  • Company Size: Eligible companies must meet size standards as set out by the SBA. This is important as applying for a contract. It may also require a company with enough employees to produce what they need.
  • Compliance: The government requires strict compliance to laws and regulations. As well as adherence to the federal government’s purchasing process governed by the Federal Acquisition Regulation.  Regulations for small business contracting can be found at 13 CFR 125.
  • Time and patience: It can take several years to be awarded a government contract. Even then, there is no guarantee that they will utilize your company.

Unfortunately, Susie Muffin-Maker did not take these things into account. She registered her business in Indonesia. Despite the low tax rates and access to the world’s largest coconut producer for her famous muffins, she is disqualified. While contracts for bakers exist, no agencies are looking for coconut muffins right now.

In NEXT WEEK’S BLOG we’ll get into the specifics of how to prepare a proposal for a government contract and which contracts are the best for your small business success.

Don’t forget our online class!!!  Government Contract Q&A

 

For additional information on government contracting, how they work, or how to get a government contract, please contact us at the Small Business Development Center – SBDC – Serving Paris area:  Lamar, Hunt, Hopkins, Delta, and Red River counties.

 

Surviving National Retailers (Walmart, Sam’s, Costco)

Yesterday, in our online class: Surviving Amazon, we talked about how to compete in business against the retail giant. In today’s blog, we’ll give you more tips on how to survive against other giant box stores like Walmart, Sam’s Club, or Costco.

As a small business owner going up against a giant retailer, the odds of surviving may seem daunting especially while trying to grow a thriving company when they move into your town. To win you must be clever and find your niche. After all, with a little rock David took down a giant.

 

How can I compete against national retailers like Walmart, Sam’s, or Costco?

Going head-to-head in a pricing competition with identical if not similar products rarely works in favor of the small business owner. The purchasing power of big retail stores allow them to buy goods cheaper and undercut smaller companies by controlling the product and pricing. To beat the odds, think more about what your company does well and less about the pressures of the competition.

 

Studying the big box stores for weaknesses can help you find your strengths:

  • Use this comparison to your advantage: For Stephanie, who owns a successful clothing boutique, it was not about offering a cheaper blouse in different colors but sourcing a well-loved local designer and collaborating on a unique clothing collection unavailable to big retail.

Up your service game:

  • If you’ve shopped at the large retail stores, it is easy to wander aisle to aisle and not find what you are looking for, let alone someone to help you locate that obscure little thingamajig with two prongs and a yellow knob. Often, a great shopping experience is about ease, convenience, and a friendly face to help as needed. As Jenny, the design showroom owner found, small things count. Her colorful, well-designed shopping environment, filled with flowers, brought clients in. Fresh cookies and a bottle of special tea to snack on, keeps them coming back.

Specialize by finding your niche:

  • When the big box stores offer nearly everything under the sun, sometimes you must lift a rock or two to discover what they cannot provide. Think of it as the fine art of competing against the bigger stores. Like an artist creating a painting, each creation is one of a kind. That uniqueness when mass produced and sold cheaply loses its value to a more discerning customer. Do more than promote products that sell repeatedly. Be one-of-a-kind with a unique image, specialized marketing, and personalized products. Also, a niche is not always about product, style of service or store merchandising, but catering to a certain type of customer like a contractor, manufacturer, or someone with a unique hobby.

Promote:

  • Selling loss leaders” is a strategy of promoting a product below its market value. When combined with a secondary product (the leader) a substantial profit can be actualized. In the fast-food industry this is the five-dollar bag of hamburgers with drink and fries’ deal. While the hamburgers are the loss, the fries and drink are highly profitable counterparts of the transaction that make it worthwhile. Promote however you like; with buy two, get the third half price, or buy one, get a baby rattlesnake free…Well, maybe don’t give away baby rattlesnakes. 😉 We are certain you have heard about many good profit-generating promotions. Use them to make a profit overall.

Reward:

  • People love to be rewarded and if they find value in it, they will continue to come back. Use loyalty cards with discounts or offer cash back rewards when possible. Frequent buyers’ clubs and tier systems where higher discounts are offered when certain dollar amounts are spent, are other good ways to drive loyalty and retain customers.

 

What advantage does small business have over national retailers?

Of the many advantages small businesses have over national retailers: being a local figure in the community with a name and a face is paramount. Remember, you are more connected with people in your community than you may realize. This is a useful tool for marketing, developing new customers, and growing support.

  • As a small business owner, you know how to best serve your community.
  • Small businesses are the backbone of not just local communities but of the twenty-eight-plus million companies in the U.S., 7% of them are small businesses.
  • Small businesses can make adjustments that larger companies often cannot. Like sourcing locations where rents may be less, shorter leases and less construction costs.
  • The ability to “stay lean” allows for higher profit potential with less overhead.
  • The flexibility to change relatively fast and move with market trends is better realized when you are not heavily invested into stocked items that may be a passing fad. More importantly, creating the next trend is what every big box retailer seeks. Trends are typically discovered by clever, entrepreneurial small business owners.

 

How can I use “Shop Local” to my advantage?

 Think about the last time you met the CEO or one of the owners of Walmart, Costco or Sam’s. Possibly while fishing you hit one of their yachts or spilled their wine at that fancy restaurant you save months to visit? We didn’t think so. It is rare to meet them, let alone discover what they are truly like as businesspeople or individuals.

As a small business owner, you are empowered to be the local celebrity that everyone feels glad to have met. You are more relatable than what’s his or her name…You know, the CEO of that big box store? Shopping locally is about caring for people in your community.

Build that sling and find that perfect stone to build your business upon. However, instead of trying to bring down a giant retailer, become like the oyster and polish your small business until you develop a valuable pearl.

 

For additional information on surviving national retailers like Walmart, Sams Club and Costco, or on developing retail strategies to help you succeed, please contact us at the Small Business Development Center – SBDC – Serving Paris area:  Lamar, Hunt, Hopkins, Delta, and Red River counties.

SBA 504 Loan – Refinance

John had a great business idea! He wanted to open a small, specialized health food store in Austin, Texas. He researched the business, wrote up a business plan, and decided to make it happen. One little problem, John didn’t have any money to get his small business off the ground. He took a risk and borrowed $10,000 to start a store called SaferWay. His small store grew, and he refinanced his loan so he could buy another property and expand into a small chain of stores. That small chain of stores eventually grew and merged with a larger national grocer. If you haven’t guessed it yet, yes, we are talking about John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods, which is now estimated to be worth $16 billion.

 

What is the SBA 504 loan program?

SBA 504 loans are sometimes called CDC/504 loans (Certified Development Companies), they are small-business loans offered by Certified Development Companies and backed by the federal government. This type of loan is one of three main US Small Business Administration loan programs. The other two programs are a 7(a) loan and a microloan – each of which have specific applications to small businesses. In this blog, we’ll talk about the SBA 504 loan program for refinancing.

SBA 504 loans are available for property purchases or for buying expensive pieces of equipment to improve or expand your business. They are a great option for small businesses who want to make big purchases and don’t have cash, investors, or other available funds.

 

Why an SBA 504 loan instead of a conventional loan?

SBA 504 loans have several advantages over conventional loans for businesses seeking to buy property or expensive pieces of equipment. Some advantages include:

  • Lower interest rates
  • Lower down payment
  • Longer amount of time to pay off the loan
  • Does not have a balloon payment or call provision
  • Lower closing fee costs
  • Government guarantee

 

What is a SBA 504 refinance loan?

While it is true that most SBA loans are used to help fund a new business, 504 loans are different. The SBA 504 loan refinance program’s purpose is to make borrowing more affordable for a large variety of businesses. This type of loan can be used to refinance previous debt incurred by small businesses for commercial real estate or fixed assets. 504 refinancing is unique because it needs to be combined with a bank loan. That means the money for the 504 loan comes from three places:

  • The owner of the business: They take out the loan and put down 10%
  • The lender or bank
  • A Certified Development Company

SBA 504 refinance loans are geared to help pay off debt, improve your percentage rate and give you longer to pay the debt – all while helping you expand and improve your business.

 

How can I refinance with an SBA 504 loan?

The SBA loan refinancing program is an important tool that will allow you, the business owner, to refinance current debt into a 504 loan. You are not allowed to refinance an existing 504 loan, however. All loans refinance with a 504 loan must also be subsidy free (without government payments or incentives.) Here are the steps to obtaining a 504 refinance loan:

  • Debt must be a commercial loan: The best loans to use a 504 refinance for are conventional loans that you might have used to start your business.
  • 85% of your original loan must have been used for fixed assets such as land, equipment, building, etc.. If you spent more than 15% paying off old debt or for working capital, you won’t qualify.
  • The debt must be 2 years old or older.
  • You’ll need 10-15% down (depending on your lender) to secure the loan.
  • The business must have eligible assets that can be used as collateral for the loan.
  • Refinancing requires that you have been in business for at least 2 years – a 504 refinance is not for new start-ups.

 

Who offers an SBA 504 refinance near me?

There are several lenders in our area that can help you decide if you are eligible for this type of loan refinance and who can walk you through the application process. Lenders in our area are:

 

ARK-TEX Regional Development Company

L.D. Williamson, Executive Director

P.O. Box 5307, 4808 Elizabeth St.

Texarkana, Texas 75501

Phone: 903.832.8636

Fax: 903.792.3012

 

GreaterTX Capital

888-923-2504

 

Alliance

817-871-6444

 

What will I need to prepare to see if I’m eligible for the SBC 504 refinance?

Here is a quick list of documents you’ll need to find out if you are eligible for the SBC 504 refinance program:

  • Updated business plan
  • Business and personal tax returns (3 years)
  • Financial statements for both business and personal
  • Accounts payable and receivable
  • Balance sheet statements, profit and loss (3 years)
  • Cost of intended property or asset (documentation such as the real estate listing, price estimate, or equipment supply estimate)

 

For additional information on what the SBA 504 refinance loan is, what it can be used for and to decide if you can qualify, please contact us at the Small Business Development Center – SBDC – Serving Paris area:  Lamar, Hunt, Hopkins, Delta, and Red River counties.

How to Handle a Bad Review

Betty was a brand-new server at the “Cake and Shake Shack.” She was bubbly, efficient and really quick on her rollerblades, especially when taking big trays of cakes and shakes to the cars who ordered them. One day, Betty ran a cake and shake out to Mr. Keyboard Warrior and his girlfriend. She smiled, flirted just a tiny bit with Mr. Warrior, and gave a wink to his girlfriend when she handed over her soy-kale-smoothie. When she rolled back inside, after pocketing the tiny tip she received, she went on to her next car delivery. Everything seemed fine. Mr. Warrior and the girlfriend drove away, eating cake and sipping shake.  Two days later, after an intense fight and subsequent break up with his girlfriend, Mr. Keyboard Warrior took to his computer to complain about Betty, her attitude, and the outrageous and inappropriate flirting she did, causing the untimely breakup between he and his girlfriend. He said the cake was dry, the shake had spinach, not kale…and he would NEVER return to the Cake and Shake Shack. One Star.

As ridiculous as that sounds, stranger things have occurred to prompt a one-star review of a small business.  In this blog, we’ll talk about how to handle a bad online review, and how to improve your overall star-ranking on Google and Yelp.

 

You got a bad review, now what?

 

How to respond to a bad review:

Maybe you discovered that Betty not only winked at Mr. Warrior’s girlfriend, maybe she slipped Mr. Warrior her phone number and said: “Call me, maybe?” On the other hand, maybe Mr. Warrior’s girlfriend is simply insecure and there was no actual flirtation. The bottom line? You need to do something about that one-star review and you should start by replying to the review online.

  • Lead with an apology

    • Simply say “I’m sorry” but be careful not to admit any wrongdoing. Something as simple as: “I’m sorry you had a bad experience.” You don’t have to admit that Ed, in the shake department, needs additional training on the difference between kale and spinach. Keep it simple.
    • Even if the customer was incredibly rude, and you don’t owe them an apology, still apologize – it will make you and your business look better. Always take the high road.
  • Offer a contact person to talk to

    • Sometimes people just want to vent – give them the main number and a person (maybe you) to talk to about the issue.
    • In actuality, only about 5% of the people who are given a person to talk to will make the call.
  • Talk about how you’ll make it right or do better next time

    • We do not suggest a free meal or a refund in your response online – it may spur more bad reviews from people who are looking for discount or free product.
    • A simple statement about how you are working to improve customer service, or the experience for your customers goes a long way in saving your image from a negative review.
  • Be professional

    • It’s very tempting at times to slap back, or to point out the reviewer’s faults – like Mr. Warrior was horribly rude and barely tipped Betty. Refrain. Remain positive and professional, keeping in mind that others will read your response and you want to be viewed as a complete professional, worthy of their business.

 

How to fix a bad review you didn’t deserve:

Not every review is legitimate. Sometimes you’ll get a review that isn’t from one of your customers, or you’ll get a bad review from a disgruntled employee. Here are a few suggestions for what you can do if you received a bad review you did not deserve:

  • Contact Google or Yelp

    • Ask to have the negative review removed and tell them why.
  • Contact the customer

    • Ask the customer to remove their poor rating…if you have access to their contact information.
      • Make sure you remain polite and never threaten a customer.
    • Listen to the customer, maybe they were having a bad day, maybe they were confused at where they ate. Sometimes simply explaining to them (politely and professionally) will be enough to get them to remove their review.

 

What if Google or Yelp won’t remove a bad review you didn’t deserve:

If you’ve tried everything and can’t get rid of that one-star review, all you can do is respond to the review professionally. For instance, if Mr. Warrior’s comment included something about how bad the pizza was – you can respond that you don’t sell pizza, just delicious cakes and shakes and you would be more than happy to have him come check out your full menu.

Keep in mind that anyone looking at your listing on Google, will read the replies.  Most customers ignore a low review if they can see that you have tried to please the customer, or that the review was posted in error.

 

How to get a higher star-rating on Google and Yelp:

Okay, you’ve gotten a bad review, rather you deserved it or not. You have responded appropriately – now how do you get a higher star-rating? You guessed it!  You’ll need to ask for good reviews. 70% of customers who have had a positive experience will post a review when asked. Here are some other tips to increase your ratings:

 

  • Ask for reviews from happy customers

  • Head off complaints before they complain online

    • Stay aware and if Betty accidently spills cake all over Mr. Potter – apologize and try to make it right by replacing the cake. Try to make the customer happy.
    • Ask them about their experience: were they pleased with their shake? Did you have the cake flavors they were looking for? Try to problem-solve while your customer is still at your place of business.
  • Caution:

    • Don’t ever offer freebies, discounts, or payment in exchange for reviews – it may be illegal in some cases, and both Google and Yelp will flag that type of activity.
  • Thank those who post a good review

    • Always respond to every review. If the review is positive, thank the person sincerely.

 

EXTRA – EXTRA!!

Tomorrow we are offering a class on How to Deal with Difficult Customers!

It’s FREE to attend!  Here’s how to sign up:

TOMORROW’S FREE CLASS

 

 

 

The Review Rabbit Hole:

If you are on your lunch break – or at home, trying to relax, here is a hilarious look at some responses to negative online reviews. We DO NOT suggest you use any of these responses in your own reviews (remember the part about being professional?) …But there are others, like you, who have survived (and maybe even laughed) at a bad review.  Here are some examples – strictly for entertainment purposes.

 

 

For additional information on how to handle a bad review, or for some good ideas on how to increase your star-rating online, please contact us at the Small Business Development Center – SBDC – Serving Paris area:  Lamar, Hunt, Hopkins, Delta, and Red River counties.

Your Web Presence | How to get on Google

You’ve done it!

Your doors are open, you’re doing business, you have a new, beautiful website…but wait! No one can find you on Google.

*SCREECH!*

Stop what you are doing and Google your business!

We’ll wait…

 

Are you on Google? Can customers find you?

If the answer is no – this blog will teach you how to get on Google!

If the answer is yes – have you claimed your business? We’ll tell you how to claim your business profile and how to update your information!

 

One of the biggest mistakes of all small businesses, is they haven’t created and/or claimed their Google listing. You may have the coolest, most unique business on the planet, but if no one can find you, it’s impossible to survive. The best part?  Getting your business listed on Google is FREE!

 

No need to pay extra to get your name in internet lights…we’ll show you the very simple steps to get the most out of your google listing.

 

How to get a Google Listing:

If you are not on Google, at all or if you cannot find a business listing after a thorough search, you need to create one.  Here are some simple steps on how to do that:

  • 1 – Create a Gmail account for your business (this is NOT a personal account.)
    • Type into the search bar in Google: Gmail.com
    • If you already have a Gmail account, but need one for your business, click on your picture or icon at the very top, right of the page. Then click on “add” or the plus (+) sign.
    • Click on “Sign In”
    • Click on “Create an Account”
  • It is VERY important that all of the information you enter here is for your business. Enter your business information and phone number as directed.  If you are the business owner, you can enter your own birthdate.  Your business phone – is what Google will use to verify it is your business. Make sure you are ready to answer the phone number you list.

 

  • 2 – Create your Business in Google: Once you have a Gmail address for your business, you are ready to complete the other required information.

 

  • Go to the top of the page and click on the set of 9 dots. (3 across, 3 down). That will open all of the Google apps.
  • Click on the little house icon that says “Business Profile”
  • Click on “Add your business”
  • Google will walk you through the process and will offer the option of sending a postcard to your business to verify, or to call the business, giving you a special code that will verify the business.  Pick the option that is best for you. You will be entering the Google verification code to claim your business profile.

 

You found yourself on Google!  Now what?

If you found your business on Google, congratulations!  Now let’s make sure your information is correct.  Time to claim your profile.

 

If you haven’t told Google that you own the business, or if you have incorrect information, you’ll need to let Google know.  Here’s how:

  • On the Google listing, there is a place to “Claim your listing” click on that and follow directions.
  • If you see a place that says: “Own this business?” And you don’t think you’ve claimed it, or if the information is wrong, click on that tab. A box will pop up and tell you if it has been already claimed.  More than likely, you haven’t claimed your business yet, and you’ll follow the steps to do so.

 

Now that your Google Listing is Claimed:

Fill in the missing information!

Go back to the little house and click on your business.  You’ll want to fill this out as much as possible. Some key things you really need to enter there:

  • Business address
  • Hours of business
  • Location (double check that they have it mapped correctly)
  • Add in your website if you have one
  • The correct main phone number
  • Biography of the business – just a short summary of what you provide
  • Menu (if you are a restaurant)

 

Google offers tips and tricks (as well as their guidelines) that will help you show off your business to the world!  Here is a handy link: Google Guidelines for your Business:

 

PRO-TIP for getting “seen” on the web:

A bonus tip: One of the added perks to being on Google is to ask for reviews. The “bots” in Google love to see reviews!  The more you have, the more likely you are to show up on Google without paying extra for AdWords or other Google offerings. Ask customers to leave a review for your business.

Google will notify you that you’ve gotten a review.  Don’t forget to click on the review in your Gmail and thank the reviewer.

 

 

For additional information regarding Google, how to represent your business on line and how to claim your Google profile, please contact us at the Small Business Development Center – SBDC – Serving Paris area:  Lamar, Hunt, Hopkins, Delta, and Red River counties.