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December 2021 Amber Grant Finalists

Thursday, January 13th, 2022

We’re delighted to share with you 5 finalists for the $10,000 December Amber Grant. The recipient will become the first qualifier for our 2022 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).

We’ll announce the business selected to receive the $10,000 grant by the January 20th. As always, each of the runners-up will earn $1,000 in grant funds.

Note: The $10,000 Amber Grant continues to run monthly in 2021. If you’d like to apply in support of your women-owned business, you can fill out an application. In December, an additional grant of $10,000 will be awarded to a women-owned business in the Fashion Design industry.

Finally, a big congratulations to the following 5 Amber Grant finalists for December:

November 2021 Amber Grant Finalists

Monday, December 13th, 2021

We’re delighted to share with you 5 finalists for the $10,000 November Amber Grant. The recipient will become the twelfth (and final) qualifier for our 2021 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).

We’ll announce the business selected to receive the $10,000 grant by the 23rd of this month. As always, each of the runners-up will earn $1,000 in grant funds.

Note: The $10,000 Amber Grant continues to run monthly in 2021. If you’d like to apply in support of your women-owned business, you can fill out an application. In December, an additional grant of $10,000 will be awarded to a women-owned business in the Fashion Design industry.

Finally, a big congratulations to the following 5 Amber Grant finalists for November:

October 2021 Amber Grant Finalists

Monday, December 6th, 2021

We’re delighted to share with you 5 finalists for the $10,000 October Amber Grant. The recipient will become the eleventh qualifier for our 2021 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).

We’ll announce the business selected to receive the $10,000 grant by the 23rd of this month. As always, each of the runners-up will earn $1,000 in grant funds.

Note: The $10,000 Amber Grant continues to run monthly in 2021. If you’d like to apply in support of your women-owned business, you can fill out an application. In November, an additional grant of $5,000 will be awarded to a women-owned business in the Skin Care industry.

Shortly, we’ll announce the October, business-specific grant award recipient (Creative Arts, $5,000).

Finally, a big congratulations to the following 5 Amber Grant finalists for October:

How to Set Up a Simple Loyalty Program

Thursday, October 14th, 2021

One big lesson that has come out of the pandemic is the value of customer loyalty. Loyal customers not only spend more, but they also serve as business ambassadors, attracting new customers to their favorite small businesses. 

An often-cited statistic for spending, which originated with Bain & Company in 1991, is that loyal customers spend 67% more than new ones. Not only that, but 56% of customers will spend more at a business they are loyal to, even when there are cheaper priced options elsewhere (that they likely know about), Yotpo reported. That percentage is up significantly from 2019, when only 34.5% were willing to spend more.

Loyal customers are also more profitable customers, according to a Harvard Business Review report that found increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits anywhere from 25% to 95%. That statistic is in line with the Pareto principle, which says that 20% of your customers are responsible for 80% of your profits. 

In the simplest terms, holding on to customers you already have will help you build your customer base faster, increase sales, and increase profits faster than trying to attract new customers.

So how can you foster loyalty? Creating a program that rewards shoppers is one easy way. Bond Brand Loyalty found that 80% of buyers say loyalty programs both make them more likely to keep buying from the company or brand, and 68% buy more to maximize their loyalty benefits.

Loyalty programs can drive sales and, fortunately, starting one doesn’t have to be complicated.

Encouraging Customer Behavior

The first step in creating a loyalty program is deciding what you want to encourage customers to do. For example:

  • Do you want them to come in more frequently? 
  • Do you want them to spend more on each visit? 
  • Do you want their help in attracting more customers? 
  • Do you want them to help promote certain products or brands?

Once you’re clear on what you want them to do, you can start to think about what you can offer that will entice them to take the action you want.

Choosing a Reward

There are probably hundreds of ways you could reward customers, but it’s important to think about what they want.

You could offer a gift certificate after customers spend a certain amount. Kohl’s does this with its Kohl’s Cash, which customers earn after spending in $50 increments. However, shoppers have to come back during the redemption period, which is typically a week or so after the cash is earned, rather than being able to spend it immediately. This boosts spending and return visits.

You could offer a discount on-the-spot for checking in on social media. Or a special prize for sharing a photo of a product purchase. This may be useful if your goal is to increase social media engagement or followers.

Many small service businesses offer cards cards that track each visit and reward the customer with a free product or a discount once the card has been filled in. That encourages repeat visits, without having to track dollar amounts spent.

You could offer free products for purchases made during a certain timeframe, like Clinique does with its bonuses. A pioneer of the free sample gift-with-purchase, cosmetic brand Clinique offers a special pack of several mini products when customers spend over a certain amount. Not only does this entice customers to spend the minimum amount to qualify, but they receive samples of other Clinique products to try that they may opt to buy next time.

Some loyalty programs offer regular benefits to regular customers, such as a percentage rebate on each purchase.

Others allow their loyalty program participants early access to sales or events, like American Express does when it offers cardholders early access to concerts and live event ticket sales.

Be sure to keep in mind that the reward needs to be something customers want in order to have any impact on your bottom line. Offering a 1% discount after spending $100, for example, is unlikely to make a difference (or the tiny amount may actually irritate customers).

Picking a Platform

When it comes to managing your rewards program, it’s best to keep it as simple as possible. Don’t invest in expensive tracking programs until you’re sure it will be worth it.

A physical punch card is a simple option that requires no tracking on your part. Design, print, and copy it yourself or use a service like Vistaprint to create something.

A software program tied to your cash register is an option for tracking amounts spent, or specific products purchased.

Sign up with an easy-to-use text-based loyalty program, such as Social Spiral, which has customers enter their cell phone number to participate. There’s no app to download and they can check their rewards via text. 

Or if you want an app, try CandyBar, which is a digital loyalty program that helps businesses track customer purchases and reward them.

With both software programs, businesses can also communicate with loyalty program members, sending them special alerts about sales or limited time offers.

Since retail loyalty program members generate between 12% and 18% more revenue for retailers than customers who aren’t program members, according to Accenture, investing a little time and money to create your own could result in a big boost to your sales.

September 2021 Amber Grant Finalists

Tuesday, October 12th, 2021

We’re delighted to share with you 5 finalists for the $10,000 September Amber Grant. The recipient will become the tenth qualifier for our 2021 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).

We’ll announce the business selected to receive the $10,000 grant by the 22nd of this month. Remember, each of the runners-up will earn $1,000 in grant funds.

Note: The $10,000 Amber Grant continues to run monthly in 2021. If you’d like to apply in support of your women-owned business, you can fill out an application. In October, an additional grant of $5,000 will be awarded to a women-owned business in the Creative Arts (e.g. photography, galleries, designers) field.

Shortly, we’ll announce the September, business-specific grant award recipient (Education & Child Care, $5,000).

Finally, a big congratulations to the following 5 Amber Grant finalists for September:

Beyond Banks: Financing Options for Women Entrepreneurs and Business Owners

Sunday, October 3rd, 2021

Many entrepreneurs are disappointed to find that banks generally won’t lend money to startups and early-stage ventures unless the business owner already has funds available, collateral, a solid business plan, and a solid credit rating. When you’re just starting out, there aren’t many women business owners who can check all the boxes that banks frequently require.

For many women, that can mean the end of trying to start or grow a business.

However, there are several options—some appropriate for startups and others for existing businesses—that don’t involve banks or credit unions and that may be able to provide business financing.

Startups

True startups are in the first year of operation, or are in the process of opening their doors. That means the company doesn’t have much of a track record of sales or a solid client base yet, in most cases, at least. But there are a couple of potential sources of capital.

Grants. In addition to the Amber Grant, there are other companies, government agencies, and nonprofit foundations that have grants that can be used to start and run a business. A few are specifically focused on helping small businesses recover from the impact of the pandemic.

Microloans. The US Small Business Administration has a program that guarantees loans of up to $50,000 to companies (meaning the bank lends the money but the SBA assumes the risk of repayment. The SBA backing makes banks more likely to lend.). These smaller loans are termed microloans and are typically easier to qualify for than traditional business loans.

Existing Businesses

If you have a business history, meaning you’ve been up-and-running for a while, you have a few more options for securing funding. These can include:

Factoring. If you have unpaid invoices that are squeezing your cash flow, factoring, or invoice financing, is one option. Granted, it’s expensive, because you essentially sell your unpaid invoices to a lender, which gives you a percentage of what you’re owed in cash today. As clients pay, the lender gets to keep most or all of it. It’s a solid option if you need money now, however.

Merchant cash advance.

If you accept credit cards from customers, who pay through a merchant services service you use, you may be able to get a cash advance based on your customers’ buying habits. For example, if you borrow $10,000, a portion of that debt is paid off daily based on your credit card sales. The amount you pay back each day is based on a percentage of your daily sales, so when things are slow your merchant provider takes a small percentage, and on busy days, it takes a larger chunk. Businesses with customers that typically pay via credit card, like restaurants, may find this is a convenient solution.

PayPal Working Capital loan.

Businesses that rely on PayPal for online payment processing may qualify for a working capital loan, which PayPal makes based on the amount of business you do on its platform. Like a merchant cash advance, PayPal makes loans based on the amount of business that is processed on the platform and structures repayment with that in mind as well.

Line of credit. Much like a credit card, which allows you to charge up to a certain amount and then pay it back over time, a line of credit provides the same flexibility. You have a maximum amount you need to stay below, but you can pay for things you need using your line of credit, paying it down as you’re paid.

Private investors. Also known as “hard money lenders,” these investors are willing to provide loans that are backed by hard assets, such as real estate, equipment, vehicles, etc. The expected payback is quick, however, and typically ranges from 18 to 24 months. This should not be a long-term strategy simply because it’s very expensive.

Leases. When you don’t have the cash or credit to purchase something you need outright, consider applying for a lease, which will allow you to effectively rent it. However, rather than having to come up with a large lump sum, you’ll pay a fixed monthly fee in order to use it. When the lease is up, you can renew for a set period of time, opt to lease something else, or put the money down and buy it outright.

It can be very discouraging to be told “no” by potential lenders or investors, but if you can find out what’s holding them back from giving you what you need, you can put together a game plan to improve your odds next time. For example, it it’s your credit score that’s knocking you out of qualifying, spend a few months getting that score up. Or if it’s your business revenue, put together a plan to dramatically increase your sales over the next 90 days, and then try again.

Outside financing can be a turbo boost to business growth, but it is certainly very possible to continue to grow your business on your own, with the resources you have now. Don’t get discouraged. Just keep trying.

August 2021 Amber Grant Finalists

Monday, September 13th, 2021

We’re excited to share with you 5 finalists for the $10,000 August Amber Grant. The August recipient will become the ninth qualifier for our 2021 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).

We’ll announce the business selected to receive the $10,000 grant by the 21st of this month. Remember, each of the runners-up will earn $1,000 in grant funds.

Note: The $10,000 Amber Grant continues to run monthly in 2021. If you’d like to apply in support of your women-owned business, you can fill out an application. In September, an additional grant of $5,000 will be awarded to a women-owned business in the Education & Child Care field.

Shortly, we’ll announce the August, business-specific grant award recipient (Hair Stylists/Products, $5,000).

Finally, a big congratulations to the following 5 Amber Grant finalists for August:

How to Take a Day Off from Work

Friday, September 3rd, 2021

As we slide into the fall season, many entrepreneurs may be wondering what happened to summer. When was that break we were supposed to take?

The reality is that after too many months of an ongoing pandemic, we all need a break. Even a day. Just some time for self-care and relaxation, when we stop doing work.

For some women entrepreneurs, this concept of a day without work may be almost inconceivable, which is a sure sign that you’re in need of one. No business can function well forever with an owner who is obsessing 24/7 about it. It’s just not sustainable, and it sure isn’t healthy.

So what, exactly, can you do to take a day off from work? Several entrepreneurs shared their strategies for taking some time away.

Understand your business cycles. Before choosing when to take a day to yourself, look at when your business is typically quieter. That way, your being away will be less disruptive, says Jennifer LaPointe, founder of Traverse Bay Farms. “ LaPointe explains that their business is in a tourist town and “most of the tourists leave to go back home on Sunday and, looking at our numbers from previous years indicates, Mondays and Tuesdays are consistently slower days,” so she decided to close the company’s retail stores on those days to get a break.

Explain the “why” to employees. To feel confident that your company can survive without you, even for a little while, you need to feel secure that your employees will make decisions the way you would. The only way for that to happen is for you to share how and why you do things the way you do. “Talk with employees frequently about the ‘why’ behind doing things and making decisions, so they feel more empowered to respond to situations when you, the primary decision-maker are not in the office, versus requiring that they always get direction from you,” recommends Cylient CEO Dianna Anderson, MCC. Sharing the “why” will also help reduce their reliance on you even when you’re at work.

Plan ahead. Jordan Bishop, founder and CEO of Yore Oyster, says the first step is planning days off. “It’s important to recognize that a business owner shouldn’t plan these days when they’re already feeling burned out, but, rather, when they think they’ll start feeling that way in the future.” For example, if you know you always feel overwhelmed around Labor Day, or really need a break once the days get shorter, look ahead on your calendar and choose a day in September and/or October when you’re not going to work.

Delegate. Next, says Bishop, “after the date has been set, it’s important to let employees know and delegate all tasks needed. If, for example, you have a business partner or manager, that person should be in charge while you’re away. “If all employees know when the business owner will be away, and they know what to do, then that business is set not to be disrupted during that time off.” Of course, you can set up a way to reach you in an emergency, but it’s important to make it clear that that’s the only situation when you should be texted, emailed, or called

Put someone in charge. Says Renee Fry, CEO of Gentreo, “It is often hard to choose one person to put in charge, but you need to pick one person who you trust who can make decisions. If no one is in charge, or no one has the authority to make decisions, decisions will not get made,” she cautions.

Block off time. Another approach is to build in slower days to your schedule. Stephanie Desaulniers, business strategist and course creator with Business by Dezign, has one day a week that is a client-free day, she says. “This day is blocked off so that no one can schedule calls or appointments with me. While I typically use this day to catch up on administrative tasks, occasionally I use it for a self-care day.”

Enforce boundaries. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to getting that day off is setting and enforcing boundaries. Alexis Haselberger, a time management and productivity consultant, says, “I set boundaries around work. I don’t work evenings and weekends, and if I’m taking a day off, I plan not to do any work at all. I set an out-of-office reply that lets my clients know where I am and when I’ll reply.”

Send a reminder. After you’ve decided when you’re taking a day off, you’ve prepped your team, and you’ve alerted your clients, it’s still a good idea to remind everyone. Rym Benchaar, a business coach and marketing strategist, says, “When I take a day off, I also ensure to set expectations with my clients, to avoid any bad surprises. Something as simple as a heads up through an email will do the trick.”

Entrepreneurs who overwork themselves are more prone to burnout, which is bad for business and can damage your company’s overall productivity. So, instead, carve out time for yourself, starting with a day off.

What You Can Do to Improve Cash Flow

Friday, August 20th, 2021

Ask entrepreneurs what the life blood of their business is and many would probably say sales.

And they’re not wrong.

Sales, or paying customers, are essential for a company to stay in business. Without sales revenue, the business closes its doors.

But the truth is that cash flow, which is the speed with which cash flows into and out of the company, is even more important. That is, it doesn’t matter how high your sales are if your expenses are even higher. It also doesn’t matter how high your sales are if your customers are super slow to pay.

To be successful, your business needs to consistently have more money coming in, through revenue, than is have going out, to pay expenses like salaries, rent, utilities, and cost of goods sold. 

There are a number of ways to improve your cash flow and your financial position. One is to get money from customers faster and the other is to slow and/or minimize the exodus of cash from your business bank account.

Require prepayment. Stacy Caprio, founder of Her.ceo, recommends requiring payment before you ever start work. She requires at least 50 percent payment up front for phone consultations, or she uses Clarity.fm so payment is required. “Think about how you can structure your offers and payment plans so the majority or full payment is required up front to reduce cash flow issues, or having to chase down payments after the fact.”

Incentivize quicker payment. One way you can often persuade customers to pay quickly, or in advance, is with either a discount or “gifting any item or service your customer would value,” says Stephanie Ng, CPA, author of How to Pass the CPA Exam, “especially if the cost to you is very low.”

Bill faster. If you can’t get payment in advance, invoice immediately on delivery of services. (With products, you should expect to get paid on delivery.) 

“When you want people to pay you faster, the key is to make the payment process as frictionless as possible,” says Zach Reece, owner and chief operating officer of Colony Roofers LLC. “That means having as few barriers as possible between the person and the final payment.” To do that, Reece recommends using online billing systems. He cites Freshbooks, which reports that electronic payments are made eight days faster than offline payment methods, and Intuit, which found that businesses using its platform were typically paid within 10 days of sending an invoice. “All other methods took and average of 27 days,” he says.

Follow your customers’ payment instructions. In many cases, especially when billing larger organizations, there are established processes in place that vendors need to follow in order to be paid promptly. “The number one mistake that causes invoices to age out is companies not following their customer’s invoicing process/instructions. You must know and follow your customer’s exact requirements for invoicing, as businesses have varied procedures that must be followed in order for them to timely process your invoice,” explains Farrah Vargas, CAEF, senior vice president of business development for Allied Affiliate Funding, a division of Axiom Bank, N.A.

“Ensure that you invoice your customer exactly how they have instructed, know who approves your invoice, and know who the person is in accounts payable (A/P) that handles the processing and payment of your invoice,” Vargas says. “If A/P doesn’t have your invoice for processing, it will not be paid.”

Offer a payment plan to create recurring revenue. Although payment plans introduce the risk of not being paid in full, an air-tight contract often addresses that issue. And stretching payment over several months is one way to generate recurring revenue, explains business coach Danielle Hu, founder of The Wanderlover. “Instead of having all clients pay up front, monthly recurring revenue (MRR) is your friend, so you are always starting the month with cash coming in,” Hu says. “MRR is another way you can earn money, work alongside your clients in a friendly setting, and improve cash flow!”

Set up a line of credit. Before you find yourself strapped for cash, apply for access to a line of credit, says Jennifer Harder, founder and CEO of Jennifer Harder Mortgage Brokers. A line of credit can be “a backup plan,” she says, though she strongly advises applying for the line of credit before you “are in desperate need,” because you’re less likely to be approved at that point. “It’s preferable to set up the line of credit when you have good cash flow and your company is performing well, rather than attempting to solve the issue at the last minute.”

Use accounts receivable financing. “This can be done with your bank if your credit is good and you have a strong relationship,” says Katharine Earhart, partner and co-founder of Fairlight Advisors. Accounts receivable financing involves getting a loan using your payments owed as collateral. Your bank “may do a short-term loan for a percentage of the A/R—70% to 80% of the value,” says Earhart. Although you’re taking on a debt, this type of financing is generally less expensive than factoring.

Turn to factoring. Similar to A/R financing, factoring “is the sale of your company’s receivables to generate cash for your business quickly, while you wait for the customer to pay the invoice (typically 30-60-day terms),” Earhart explains. Although factoring is one way to get cash fast, it can cost anywhere from 5% to 10% per month, she says, so “think carefully and strategically before pursuing this route.”

Maximize time to pay your bills. Says Ng, “if you have a large accounts payable balance, be sure you aren’t paying bills ahead of time. It’s not uncommon for a large vendor to offer terms that will provide a 3 percent discount if you pay by a specific date, so prioritize paying that vendor early and find comfort in paying other vendors by their due date,” she says. You can also reach out to vendors and request longer payment terms, too.

Lease, don’t buy. If you anticipate a cash shortage in the coming months, don’t spend all of your available cash on equipment if you can, instead lease it. The total cost will be higher over the term of the lease, yes, but by spreading payments out over multiple years, you may also avoid the need to rely on expensive accounts receivable financing tools. Leasing also gives you the flexibility to regularly update your equipment or technology at the end of your lease term, without having to sell what you currently have.

Liquidate old inventory. Product-based businesses frequently find themselves with inventory that just isn’t selling and is sitting around taking up shelf space. One way to convert that inventory into cash is to liquidate it, either through a big sale with deep discounts, to move it all out, or through the use of a liquidation firm that will buy it all for pennies on the dollar. Granted, taking a loss on your inventory may not be appealing, however, holding onto products that are declining in value is really only tying up cash you could be using for other purposes.

Successful cash flow management requires paying close attention to where your money is coming from, and where it’s going. Keeping money in your account as long as possible, with a steady stream of deposits, helps to avoid cash shortfalls.

July 2021 Amber Grant Finalists

Wednesday, August 11th, 2021

We’re thrilled to share with you 5 finalists for the $10,000 July Amber Grant.

The July recipient will become the eighth qualifier for our 2021 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000). We’ll announce the business selected to receive the $10,000 grant by the 23rd of this month. Remember, each of the runners-up will earn $1,000 in grant funds.

Note: The $10,000 Amber Grant continues to run monthly in 2021. If you’d like to apply in support of your women-owned business, you can fill out an application. In August, an additional grant of $5,000 will be awarded to a women-owned business in the Hair Stylists/Products industry.

Shortly, we’ll announce the July, business-specific grant award recipient (Animal Services, $5,000).

Finally, a big congratulations to the following 5 Amber Grant finalists for last month:

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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.”