Author Archive

Where to Find Good Business Advice

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to find reliable, useful advice from people who know what they’re talking about. Sure, everyone has opinions, but which are the opinions worth listening to? It can be hard to distinguish between people who’ve been there, done that and can share how they handled a situation similar to yours and people who believe they know how they would handle a situation should they ever face it. Big difference.

Fortunately, there are organizations, agencies, and communities you can turn to when you have a “what would you do?” type of question. And you’ll get answers from people who can talk about what they did, and what they’d do now if they faced the same situation.

Here are some of the best we’ve heard of or dealt with:

Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE)

This unit of the Small Business Administration—SCORE– provides free business counseling to entrepreneurs and business owners, delivered by retired executives and entrepreneurs who serve as mentors. We’ve heard SCORE can be great at helping you problem-solve when you’re facing a specific challenge or obstacle.

Small Business Development Center (SBDC)

Frequently located on the campuses of community colleges or universities and partially funded by the Small Business Administration, SBDCs also offer free or low-cost advice to aspiring and existing business owners. Face-to-face (or maybe virtual right now) counseling is no-cost, while training is offered at cost, on topics ranging from marketing to business planning to exporting, regulatory compliance, and more. Search to find your local SBDC to learn about the services they provide.

Avvo

This legal advice website allows you to submit a question on the site for free, which an attorney will answer. There are also plenty of useful articles on topics of interest to small business owners, all of which are free to read.

Business Advising

Like SCORE, which pairs you with a mentor, Business Advising matches US small business owners with a volunteer advisor who works with you for free. The nonprofit claims that companies that work with its mentors achieve a 20% increase in revenue, on average, as a result. Although there are no firm rules, the companies that benefit most from the organization’s mentoring typically have been in business for at least a year, have more than one employee, and revenue over $100,000.

StartupNation

This website is chock full of free useful articles offering startups and existing businesses information and guidance designed to help you grow.

Small Business Forum

This old-school bulletin board-style site is a place where you can post questions for other business owners to answer, for free. The group is active and could provide a broader perspective on whatever you’d like help with.

Y Combinator

Y Combinator is a very well-known and respected business accelerator for smaller companies trying to scale quickly. Its YouTube channel, with more than 268,000 subscribers, features instructional videos from a wide variety of entrepreneurial superstars.

Your alma mater

Many colleges and universities—and especially larger ones—have incredible networks that you should definitely tap into. From local meet-and-greets to venture investment funds. MIT’s Castor Ventures, for example, is a venture capital fund to which MIT alums have access as investors. Its sister fund, Alumni Ventures Group, is a potential starting point for MIT alums heading small ventures.

The key with any challenge you may be facing is to zero in on the question you need answered. What piece of information will allow you to progress? Then investigate who is best positioned to answer your question. Some of these organizations may be able to help you.

August 2020 Amber Grant Awarded to Lovedudz

Thursday, September 17th, 2020

We’re thrilled to announce the $10,000 August Amber Grant recipient. Congratulations to Tasha Mayberry, Owner of Lovedudz. Tasha is the ninth qualifier for the $25,000 year-end Amber Grant.

Lovedudz is a pre-launch business that makes rompers for kids. However, its impact stretches far beyond clothing. Continue on to read about Tasha’s vision for giving back — plus much more.

Note: Applications are currently being accepted for the September Amber Grant. You can apply today.

WN: Describe Lovedudz and the purpose it serves.

TM: I have a dream to live in a world full of kindness and love. I believe the key to achieving this is through our tiniest citizens – kids!

Here at Lovedudz we inspire kids to dream big, be kind, love, and give back. I started the business with my 4-year-old son so he can learn first-hand entrepreneurism; but mostly the value of being kind and helping others.

Lovedudz has an extremely unique business model that will give back in multiple ways, creating a ripple effect of good in this world.

Key Points:

  • Lovedudz are slouchy rompers for kids age 12 months to 4T.
  • Every romper has a one-of-a-kind, unique design inspired by a child’s artwork.
  • $5 from every romper sold is donated to a charity. Each romper style will have a different charity.
  • We are launching Lovedudz with two designs – a rocketship from my son’s artwork when he was two years old and a unicorn design in honor of a beautiful angel child named Teeja who passed away at 6 years old from neuroblastoma. Teeja always was drawing rainbows, the sun, and her smiling while in the hospital and loved unicorns. ($5 from the Teeja Rompers will be donated to a cancer charity that helps families going through treatment with kids.)

To understand my dream fully, you have to understand my story.

I was raised by an amazing single-mom who worked three jobs just to make ends meet, but it wasn’t easy. Growing up we lived in an apartment while on welfare, in a tiny camper on the back lawn of my mom’s best friend’s house, in a trailer, and above a garage in a two-room space.

My mom worked hard. I did well in school and always dreamed big ever since I was a little girl. By the time I was 16 my mom had married and built a beautiful house.

However, not having a father though took a toll on me and I fell into the wrong crowd. After years of addiction in my late teens, I hit rock bottom. A toxic relationship, lost both of my jobs, lost my apartment – it was time. I had lost that fire inside me – the little girl with big dreams. Then I found her again. I went to rehab and not only turned my life around, I enhanced my life 100 fold.

I’m living proof that dreams do come true no matter your circumstance. I’ve also learned that my past doesn’t define me and I don’t have to hide it. It made me who I am today – determined and resilient to do well and help others.

WN: What will differentiate your product from competitors’?

TM: Lovedudz not only has a unique and strong business model, but the product is in very high demand.

The whole idea for making slouchy rompers for kids came from not being able to find the type of quality romper for my son I was looking for (super trendy, harem-style, NOT the typical cutesy baby design). They say necessity is the mother of invention.

I experience two problems with slouchy rompers:

  1. First, one company sold them for $45+ (and add shipping on top of that). When I received it in the mail it was not high quality – cheap material and ended up being too small.
  2. Second, there are amazing Etsy stores that hand-make rompers but again it costs $45+ and took three weeks to arrive. I loved the romper but the note said hand wash only. A bit inconvenient for a busy mom.

There are FIVE main differentiators that will make Lovedudz rompers unique:

#1 Unique One-of-a-Kind Designs Inspired by Kids’ Artwork

  • Lovedudz are trendy rompers that are “harem-style,” which means slouchy in between the legs — super adorable. Sizes from age 12 months to 4T, the boy romper designs have hoods and the girl romper designs come with trendy wrap headbands instead of a hood.
  • Every romper has a one-of-a-kind, unique design inspired by a child’s artwork. When my son kept bringing home really trendy looking artwork, it clicked. I can use his art to design the rompers. Then I thought why not bring in other kids’ artwork to expand the collection and have the kids choose their own charity to give back to from their romper design? The names of the kids are the names of our rompers!
  • The creative process in designing each romper takes many hours and is very fun.

#2 Quality Made and Machine Washable

  • Our rompers have plenty of room to grow into. I used to work with a baby brand in Canada and learned about their sizing compared to sizing in the USA. I absolutely loved how they had just enough wiggle room for kids to grow into so they could wear it longer. We will do the same for our rompers. It’s not a huge, baggy difference but just a perfect amount of extra wiggle room.
  • We are testing different fabrics from bamboo to jersey cotton and even cotton/spandex blend – plus others. The fabric we choose will wash well, wear well, and be long-lasting.
  • Definitely will be machine washable so busy moms like me can throw it in the washing machine without worry.

#3 Affordable Price Point & Fast Shipping

  • So the harem rompers I found for my son were $45 to $50+ – for ONE romper! Plus add shipping on top of this. It was a “splurge buy” rather than a practical “buy each season” type of purchase. This is too pricey for parents.
  • It is very important that the price of Lovedudz rompers are $25 – $30 (perhaps even lower after we test some samples from our Bali factory). Keep in mind, every time a romper is purchased, $5 is donated to charity so a lower price point means more families buying more rompers = more people we can help with donations.
  • The Etsy harem rompers for kids are great but they are handmade as mentioned before with three weeks to eagerly await your package. Lovedudz orders will be shipped within 24 hours and delivered within a couple days inside the United States. We will even offer FREE SHIPPING when two or more rompers are purchased giving more incentive for customers.

#4 Two Very Special + Unique Give Back Initiatives

  • $5 from each romper sold is donated to a charity. Each romper will have a designated charity.

For example, for all the rompers we release using my son’s artwork as inspiration for the design, $5 will be donated to the Kind Kash Fund where we give families $250 to make ends meet. Whether it be to pay rent, buy food, throw their kid a birthday party, enroll their child in ballet, or anything else that will help them get by, the Kind Kash Fund is here to help.

  • We will also give 20% of profits to kids’ if we choose their artwork to design a romper. Parents can submit their kids’ artwork on our website and each quarter we will choose a piece of art to inspire our next romper design. The child will get to choose the charity that we give $5 per romper too as well (for their romper design only). I wanted to take it a step further and truly change their lives, so 20% of all profits from all rompers sold of their design will be paid to the child (their family) until the child turns 18 years old.

#5 Not Just a Product but a Community

Lovedudz is more than just a product to buy. It’s a community where we inspire and empower kids to dream big, be kind, and be creative.

WN: What are some key upcoming milestones for Lovedudz?

TM: The $10k Grant will move Lovedudz from a concept to a business. Here’s our current timeline:

September 2020

  • Design first two flagship romper designs the “Vasya” Romper and the “Teeja” Romper.
  • Buy samples of each design from two factories.
  • Begin the website design (LOGO complete).
  • File a trademark on the company name.
  • File an LLC for Lovedudz.
  • Open business bank account.

October 2020

  • Receive samples.
  • Photoshoot with kid models (the photos will be used for the website and online shop).
  • Complete the website.
  • Create all social media accounts with branding.
  • Invite celebrities and influencers to create a custom designed romper from their kids’ artwork and choose a charity to give back to.
  • Create a video with new photography of the actual product.
  • Create the pre-order launch plan.
  • Soft launch.

November 2020

  • Start Pre-Order Sale.
  • Place a very small order of rompers to have inventory to sell. To get good pricing a large quantity must be ordered so whatever money is left over from the $10k grant (after website hosting, samples, & photoshoot expenses), all will need to go towards my first romper order. I won’t be able to buy many but I can buy some and I am grateful.
  • The huge benefit is that I design websites, write copy, handle all branding, social media and more. So something that would cost $5k – $10k out of the gate for someone else, I save on this expense by doing it myself – and doing it very well.
  • Start designing celebrity rompers based on their kids’ artwork.

December 2020

  • Start shipping pre-orders based on the first order made in November.
  • Continue getting pre-orders and place another romper order to fulfill inventory.
  • Announce the money donated to date to each charity and send a check to each charity.

January 2021

  • Release 1-2 new romper designs plus any celebrity designs.
  • Choose our first child artwork.

WN: How are you planning to market the Lovedudz brand?

TM: I have a very unique advantage because I’ve worked with hundreds of baby and kids brands helping many go from start-up to multi-millions in sales. I know exactly what type of marketing works well so here’s my marketing plan:

High End Video

A high-end video that shares the Lovedudz story and my backstory. There are so many moving pieces so a video would be best.

Social Media Ads

I am a master ad copywriter and graphic designer. I would test multiple ads on Facebook and Instagram with different actions from liking and comments, tagging a friend in the comments, entering a giveaway, following our page, entering name and email to grow our marketing list, and of course to pre-order.

Mommy Bloggers (Viral Giveaway + Commission)

  • I have a list of 2k mommy bloggers that I’ve worked with for a decade. I am SO EXCITED to share Lovedudz with them when the time is right. Since I have a relationship with them, I would create a very special program where I would send them a free romper in exchange for them posting a review on their website about Lovedudz and ask them to add our rompers to their holiday gift guides.
  • I would create a WOW Offer giveaway as I call it (for example win $500 cash and a Lovedudz romper) – to enter they must follow Lovedudz on social media and give name and email. Plus, we use a viral giveaway software where they are motivated to get two friends to enter the giveaway for a bigger chance to win so it grows like a web through word-of-mouth (best way to market). I would give the entry form embed code to all the bloggers who review my romper and they would post on their blog and share on social media for their followers to enter the giveaway. This means that I capture thousands of names and emails from all these bloggers’ audiences to grow the Lovedudz marketing list – not to mention grow our Instagram following quickly.
  • Lastly, I would assign each blogger a unique code and give them a kickback commission on all pre-orders made using their code so there is great incentive for the bloggers to share and promote.

Big Influencers and Celebrities

  • These are people who have 500k+ followers up to millions of followers. I have a celebrity on board already to create a romper design and help promote. Her posts get 50k likes on Instagram!
  • This is a unique part of the marketing strategy. Celebrities and Influencers are in a special position to bring huge brand awareness on what Lovedudz is doing to spread love and kindness in the world. Through their influence, thousands of orders will be placed and this means thousands of dollars raised for the charity of their choice.
  • The celebs will submit artwork from their kids to inspire an exclusive romper design. Everyone loves celebrites’ kids! Now they can have a teachable moment with their children on spreading love and kindness. The celebrities and influencers help promote to get pre-orders and $5 from each sale goes to a charity of their choice. We also split the profits for their romper style 50/50.

Press

I’ve been a publicist for 15 years and have relationships with hundreds of parenting press. I would pitch them Lovedudz and get us featured as much as possible not just as a product but as a company who is changing lives. I would love to focus on the stories of how the money raised at Lovedudz for various charities make an impact – and the press can help share these stories.

Big Launch Party (Virtual)

  • I would create a big giveaway where 25+ other brands donate a prize to the winner and share the giveaway on social media and with their email list.
  • The entry page lives on the lovedudz.com website which means all the traffic would go to our website to generate exposure. We use our viral software to capture name and email and give entrants a bigger chance to win if they refer friends to enter and share about Lovedudz on social media. A requirement to enter would be to follow us on Instagram so that grows quickly.

Email Marketing

I would start building a community by offering valuable and fun content each month as soon as we go live.

Social Media

I would focus on Facebook and Instagram and post photos of kids wearing our rompers and also highlight stories of giving back and the real impact Lovedudz makes.

WN: Share some advice you’d give an aspiring female entrepreneur.

TM: There’s a book that changed my life that I ALWAYS recommend. It’s called, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. This book teaches the concept of Law of Attraction – what we think about, we bring about in the simplest terms. I even wrote a book about it because my experience with manifesting everything I want in life has changed me to my core. I have always been a good person, but The Secret awakened a part of me that erased all doubt and worry from my life.

To succeed as an entrepreneur building a foundation from the concepts taught in this book will catapult you so far ahead it seems almost like magic – but really it’s just science. Quantum Physics – it’s all about positive thoughts and energy. And this is not kooky, off the wall stuff. It’s very real and very awesome. If you can learn and master the following, you can achieve your biggest dreams and quickly while living your best life and discovering the best version of you:

#1 Identify Limiting Beliefs

Our limiting beliefs start from when we are kids and sometimes become so deep rooted that as we get older we forget they are still inside.

These internal beliefs are roadblocks that stopped my dream life from coming true. It’s like attaching a brick to your dreams and throwing them in the deepest ocean never to be realized.

But once we identify that tiny voice inside that limits us, you can rephrase these statements to new positive beliefs which transform your thoughts initially and then eventually become your new beliefs.

#2 Positive Thinking

What we think dictates how we feel and how we feel creates our personal energy. If our energy is a high frequency and positive, things we want manifest very quickly. If our energy is negative and low, it’s much harder for the universe to hear what we want and make it happen.

It’s easy to think negatively and not realize it. For example – “Ugh, Monday again. I am already looking forward to Friday.” This sets the tone for your day and for your week. Instead say, “A new fresh week to do amazing things!”

#3 Gratitude

Gratitude is more than being thankful. It’s a deep appreciate for everything in your life big and small. Everyone can have something to be grateful for.

Showing gratitude for what we have attracts more things to our life to be grateful for. If we focus on what we don’t have (the scarcity mindset) we will always lack those things. If we focus on what we do have and are grateful (the abundance mindset), we are not only happier and appreciate things, we attract more and more to our life to be happy about.

Start each day by going through your gratitude list and end each day by writing five things down you are grateful before you close your eyes to sleep.

Don’t forget grateful intentions! These are POWERFUL. A grateful intention is something you are grateful for that have not happened yet but you feel the emotions and visualize as if it has already happened.

#4 Visualize

The quickest way to achieve any goal is to envision what you want with great detail and feel as if it already is true. A big part is also believing it to be true and without a doubt it will become your reality.

I create vision boards and it’s like shopping. I print images from Google of everything I want to accomplish in the current year. Then I thumb through magazines and cut out words and images that inspire me. Next I take a big white poster board and I assemble all my pieces on the board. After I like the look of it, I glue everything down.

Hang your vision board where you can see it daily and spend a few minutes each day looking at everything on your board. Close your eyes and envision yourself with great detail doing what you see on the board.

#5 Take Action

This is the most important step. You can do everything I talked about (steps 1-4) but if you don’t take action, then it doesn’t work. There’s always a next step that you can take to push your dream forward. Want to buy a house? Start looking on Zillow every day, meet with a mortgage company to exactly what’s needed, and start looking at houses with a broker. Don’t let limiting beliefs get in the way and go for it!

WN: If you have anything else to share, please do!

TM: We don’t have the product samples just yet but will very soon now that we won the Amber Grant. So in the meantime I would love to share the design process and describe what the first two rompers will look like (one boy style and one girl style).

Style #1 – Rocketship (The Vasya Romper)

$5 donated to The Kind Kash Fund to give families $250 when they need it.

The design will look like this:

  • So this will be a boy’s design with long sleeves and a hood. A slouchy romper.
  • On the inside of the hood there will be black stripes – maybe grey.
  • The rocket will either be a bunch all over as an uneven tiled print OR large on the front.
  • The romper will be light, heathered grey.
  • We will have cuffs at the ankles that will be a contrast color or stripes just like the inside of the hood.
  • We will have one back pocket where the Lovedudz logo may be (still deciding) and possible stripes like the inside of the hood. So in three spots on the romper there is a pop of another design.
  • So all these little design details will create very appealing rompers.

Style #2 – Unicorn (The Teeja Romper)

$5 donated to a cancer charity that helps families going through treatment with kids.

Made in honor of Teeja who passed away at the age of 6 from neuroblastoma. 20% of profit will be given to Teeja’s family – she has three other siblings.

August 2020 Amber Grant Finalists

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020

Today, we’re writing to share with you 10 finalists for the $10,000 August Amber Grant.

Yes, we’ve doubled the number of monthly finalists, and we intend to keep the number at 10 going forward. The goal is to highlight even more incredible women-owned businesses.

The recipient will be the 9th of 12 finalists for the 2020 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000). You can expect that announcement to be made next week.

For now, congratulations to the following 10 women-owned businesses:

Lash Duet

Website

 

Forever Wild Organics

Website

 

Lovedudz

(No Website)

 

Damzelfly

Website

 

Maia Classroom

Website

 

Things Beloved

Website (Coming Soon)

 

CNA Simulations VR

Website

 

SnappyScreen

Website

 

Okay Jak

Website

 

Sustainable Viticulture Systems

Website

Amber Grant Application Critique: HEART Mobile CPR

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020

Shawna Bobst, RN’s Amber Grant application for HEART Mobile CPR is a great example of a business that evolved from side hustle to full-fledged business. There is no question that there is demand at some level for CPR training in her area, however, there were some missing pieces of information that kept Shawna out of the running for an Amber Grant.

To help Shawn improve her odds of winning a grant – Amber Grant or otherwise – the WomensNet advisory board went back through her application to point out the strengths and weaknesses of the information she provided.

Here is the application as submitted:

Tell us about your business or business idea…

I started HEART mobile CPR in 2018 to give everyone the opportunity to learn how to save a life. It started as a small business I was doing on the side a long with my nursing position. I never really thought about it becoming a real business, just something to do. As time went on I started getting calls to come do classes for corporations like Owens Corning, Lennox HVAC, and other corporations and I started to think wow, I may have a good business idea here. With the amazing growth I quickly became an authorized training site through AHA in 2019. I was able to then start training individuals to be trainers. At this time I have 38 amazing women on my team. We are making connections throughout the state of Ohio and making an impact on others lives. I feel like we are family, we have spa days, dinners, and what we call instructor POW WOWs.

At this time I would like to see the business grow in other ways now as well.

For several years I have had connections with human trafficking organizations. I have held fundraisers and collected purses/backpacks filled with much needed items for the woman and children. Seeing these woman overcome as survivors is amazing and I would like to do more. I have been putting things into place to be in a position to offer these woman employment and mentoring on becoming trainers and growing their own business. My goal is to be more than just a company that teaches others how to save lives through CPR but also changing lives for woman.

Tell us what you would do with the money if awarded a grant…

If HEART Mobile CPR was to be awarded the money I would be utilizing it to purchase more equipment such as manakins, BVMs, AEDs, face shields, office equipment. This would help to ensure every trainer has the necessary equipment to conduct a successful class. Many things need to be in place to have this to run smoothly not only the equipment but the marketing and websites as well to make the connections needed to get clients. This money would be utilized to change the lives of others in many ways.

Thank you for your time and attention and consideration to award HEART Mobile CPR the Amber Grant.

Our critique

As a nurse, Shawna has a great background for a healthcare-related business. She has the training and connections within the medical community that should help attract clients and she is obviously qualified to provide CPR training services (becoming an authorized trainer in 2019 was also a big win).

She does well explaining her business, her services, and how the business came to be — originating organically due to community need. A customer-driven company is always better than trying to introduce a new product or service that people aren’t sure they want. In this case, there is demand for CPR training, which is a big positive for this application.

What comes through loud and clear in her application is her passion for saving lives. She wants to improve her community and prevent unnecessary deaths by training more people in the use of CPR. It’s a noble cause and she’s obviously committed, all of which is good. We know she’s all in.

She’s also doing a great job of networking and leveraging past successes to attract more potential clients. Her existing client relationships with major corporations gives her immediate credibility that should make attracting new clients easier.

Opportunities for improvement

Although it’s clear what HEART Mobile CPR provides in the way of services, there is no information about how the company makes money. What do customers pay for training services? What kind of expenses does the company have? How are team members paid? What are the profit margins? What is the geographic radius that the company serves? These questions are essential for any grant committee to have answered in order to gauge the viability of the business. That is, is it profitable and is it making enough money to survive and grow? That’s unclear here.

Another area where Shawna could elaborate is on the company’s marketing strategy. How will she connect with organizations that may want to bring in CPR training? There is a website, which is good for businesses searching for CPR training in her area, but what kind of outreach is being done? Is she active on social media, is she using direct mail to area companies, is she pursuing publicity – we don’t know.

The planned support for human trafficking survivors is noble and a terrific idea, but it’s not directly related to providing CPR training, so it wouldn’t be a factor in judging the application. It would be better to use that space to talk about how the business will be operated. Such as whether there are expansion plans for the company and what needs to happen for those to be implemented? For example, will there need to be a certain number of training requests per month or quarter before HEART Mobile decides to set up a site there?

Shawna has the skills and experience to run a thriving business – and she may be already. However, without any financial information at all, it was hard to know whether the company was profitable or struggling. Adding statistics like sales growth from the last couple of years, or projected revenue for 2020, would be a big help to grant evaluators.

Shawn’s got a great start and we hope she reapplies with some more detail.

 

Negotiating Tips for Renting Space During a Pandemic

Thursday, August 27th, 2020

It’s no surprise that the pandemic, coupled with governmental stay-at-home orders, has dramatically impacted the commercial real estate market. While some organizations are realizing they may have more workspace than they need and are considering downsizing, other companies are strategizing how to negotiate or renegotiate new or existing leases.

According to Andrew Weinberger, founder and CEO of PropertyClub, “It’s a great time for small business owners to rent an office or retail space.” That is, if your business is looking to expand, you may now have an opportunity to lease space you would never have been able to afford previously. “The COVID-19 pandemic has put a tremendous amount of strain on commercial real estate landlords, with vacancy rates rising and prices dropping significantly,” Weinberger observes.

Small Businesses Are in the Driver’s Seat

“The disruption to the supply and demand within the real estate market has created a situation where prospective renters have a great deal of power,” says Nishank Khanna, CMO at Clarify Capital.  “With increased available real estate, small business owners are positioned well to negotiate. Similarly, property owners are more likely to extend some flexibility and work with renters in order to make a sale.”

The key is to first think about what you need space-wise, and what you may need in a year or two. If you anticipate requiring more space, or less, you’ll want to build in flexibility to your lease agreement, so that you’re not stuck paying for space that isn’t supporting your business.

As you begin conversations with brokers and property owners, consider trying some of the following strategies to get the best deal:

Ask for free rent

Rather than asking landlords to drop the per-month lease rate, ask for several months of free rent on the front end of a new lease, recommends Sharon Simmons Cantrell, shareholder and attorney at Simmons and Fletcher, PC.

“Landlords are losing tenants left and right to businesses closing. If they lower the rent, that sets a new baseline for all future rent negotiations on all that empty space they are trying to fill,” Cantrell points out. “Landlords are often more willing to give you free rent for a set period of time and then have a higher per-month rental rate afterward than to give you a lower rental rate and potentially lose money every time they have a lease come up for rent. So don’t be afraid to ask for six months’ free rent versus a rent reduction,” she says.

Move quickly

“Agreeing to speed up the process and sign on immediately, so long as specific term or concession is included in the lease agreement is a smart negotiating tactic,” says Khanna. “This is because some landlords might believe the value of an immediate sale outweighs the profit loss of a negotiated term, when considering the time and effort it takes to pursue prospective tenants.”

Push for a shorter lease term

“Shorter lease terms will allow you to break out of a contract if you need to,” says Rex Freiberger, CEO of Discuss Diets. “If all your workers have to be remote for months, it may sink you financially to keep paying into a lease…being able to break a lease could save you tens of thousands of dollars, if not more.”

Negotiate for reduced late fees

“Most property owners won’t waive them completely, though you may be able to get a longer grace period,” Freiberger says. “What you should focus on is cutting those rates, ideally in half if you can manage it. That way if you have to be behind for any reason, it won’t hurt you any more.”

“Right now there is more room to negotiate when securing rental space,” says Kimberly Porter, CEO of Microcredit Summit. “Make sure you talk with your landlord about options and if paying ahead or early could provide you with even more of a rate drop.”

Amber Grant Application Critique: RAW Designs

Wednesday, August 19th, 2020

Rachel Waddell’s Amber Grant application for RAW Designs made clear right up top what the business was all about, but then pivoted, along with the business’s products, into a new product and market during the pandemic. Trying to grow two businesses at a time is even harder than focusing on one, which is one reason RAW didn’t make it into the list of finalists. However, Rachel did a great job of articulating her product and market, which we wanted to highlight.

To help Rachel improve her odds of winning a future grant, the WomensNet advisory board went back through her information to try and show her the strengths and weaknesses of the information she provided.

Here is the application:

Tell us about your business or business idea…

RAW Designs was created in 2013 with a focus on custom made western apparel. Rachel cleaned out an old granary barn at her parents farm and created a sewing workshop. Since then, the business has expanded to make a line of jeans, western shirts, and heavy duty horse back riding equipment including saddle pads and saddle bags.

Our mission is to inspire confidence and grit, and motivate personal development in the equestrian field. Eventually, we would like to see RAW Designs expand to provide a line of Men’s, Women’s, and Children’s western apparel and horse-related items sold in western stores around the US.

In late March 2020, Rachel saw the rising need for homemade masks for healthcare workers locally and across the USA. She started a Facebook group called Minnesota Covid Mask Sewists. The intention was to connect people making masks with those requesting them. She led and advised home sewists on the best patterns and practices for creating the masks. The group has grown to almost 2000 people, a website was created for efficiency, and thousands of masks have been donated to healthcare, elderly facilities, group homes, and individuals. With the change in CDC recommendations, mask demand has risen exponentially. Some essential workers have been required to wear them for work, and large businesses are searching for manufacturers that can meet their demands. Many individuals are also looking to purchase washable masks.

RAW Designs has turned their workshop over completely to mask manufacturing. With high standards, Rachel can only make 250 masks per week alone and is getting burnt out on her fourth week in production. RAW Designs is taking on 2 independent employees this week. They will maintain social distancing in the workshop and sew masks from home. We are hoping to produce at least 500 masks/wk and have put in bids for contract with City of Mpls (500-2500 masks), and Buffalo High School (seniors 500 masks).

Tell us what you would do with the money if awarded a grant…

If RAW Designs is awarded $4000, we will be able to keep 2 employees working part time for approximately 5 weeks at $400/wk for each employee. Not only will we be able to provide thousands of masks to the public, but we are providing jobs. One of our employees works as a substitute teacher and lunch aid in a school that is now closed, and the other employee is a furloughed nurse.

With this boost in business, RAW Designs will also have a steady revenue and can successfully continue production of western wear and horse-related items when mask production decreases.

Our critique

Rachel clearly knows the equestrian market and is capable of producing quality custom clothing and riding gear.

Demonstrating that she’s already producing products, has a functioning workspace, sewers, and the needed equipment is a big accomplishment. And zeroing in on the western side of equestrian gear – versus other types, such as dressage or hunter/jumper, for example – is also smart. It’s easier to identify potential clients when you’re clear about who you’re serving.

Opportunities for improvement

Although there is plenty of useful information in the application, there were two main issues that stood in the way of winning this past month: 1) There was little detail regarding the market for Western wear and demand for the custom products and 2) Although grabbing a piece of the mask market while it is hot is a smart way to generate some quick cash, it also diverts attention away from the core products. The question is, how long will demand for masks remain high and at what point will Rachel shift her focus back to her core product?

First, when applying for grant funds, it’s critical that all applicants prove that there is demand for the products or services being offered. That is, have you identified customers who are willing to pay you money for what you’re selling? And is what they’re willing to pay enough for you to make a profit? Price yourself too low and you’ll be out of business quickly and price yourself too high and you may not have enough customers to keep your business operating.

There is no information in this application about the size of the market, who the target audience is (men? women? children?), what Western apparel typically sells for and how custom clothing compares, who competitors are, and how the products will be marketed and sold (online? at horse shows? through retailers?). These are important facts and figures that you should research and present as proof that the grant will help you meet demand for your products or services, whatever they are.

Information about where raw materials are coming from and what kind of labor will be used to sew everything would also be useful in this instance, mainly to show that the entrepreneur knows they need to be addressed.

Second, although many U.S. manufacturers did stop producing their core products and switched to make essential items like masks and hand sanitizer at the start of the pandemic, in this case, it doesn’t sound like that’s the plan for RAW Designs long-term. Eventually, the business would convert back to sewing custom Western wear, though it’s not clear when. It seems like the plan is fluid in that it provides for filling the short-term demand for masks. Although we understand the rationale, we would have like to have seen a singular focus on the long-term product.

If the business were able to continue sewing Western jeans and shirts in addition to masks, this diversion to pursuing mask-making contracts might be less of an issue. The masks would become a supplementary source of revenue that would support the business and its sewers, which would be terrific. But since it’s unclear what the long-term plan is, it’s hard to justify a grant.

Rachel is clearly a skilled apparel designer and it’s very likely she is well-connected in her industry. Those are big advantages and, in some cases, they can mean the difference between success and failure. However, developing a long-term growth plan and offering details regarding finances and marketing would go a long way in this particular application.

What people are saying about WomensNet

Forbes

“You have to be in it to win it...seize the opportunity and apply.”

Nerd Wallet

“The Foundation awards $10,000 to a different women-owned business every month. At the end of each year, one of the 12 grant winners is awarded an additional $25,000.”

Score

“Launched 20 years ago this grant honors the memory of a young woman who wanted to be an entrepreneur but died at age 19 before she could achieve her goal.”

Fundera

“The Amber Grant Foundation was launched in 1998 to honor the memory of a young woman. The grant was formed to help women entrepreneurs reach their goals when Amber could not.”