Author Archive

Advice for Amber Grant Applicants

Monday, November 14th, 2022

Filling out grant applications is an art form. And while there are professionals who specialize in crafting grant requests, odds are good you probably aren’t one of them. Few entrepreneurs and business owners are, and that’s okay. No one at WomensNet expects you to have grant writing experience or expertise.

The reason that the application for the Amber Grant is so simple is that we want to make it easier for you to tell us what you think is important about your business; we haven’t tried to pose questions you will find hard to answer. However, some applicants have told us that our broad questions are also challenging. They aren’t sure how far back to go when describing their company’s history, or how specific they should be when talking about their current situation or future plans, for example.

We get it.

So, to help you decide what is most relevant and important for us to understand, we wanted to offer some tips for how to fill out your Amber Grant application. 

Keep in mind your audience

Since our goal at WomensNet is to help woman-owned businesses get started and grow, we want to hear more about your growth plans than anything else. There are plenty of other grants out there that are for startups or retailers or companies hard hit by the pandemic, but that is not the focus of the Amber Grant. 

Before you submit your own application it’s always a good idea to study past Amber Grant winners. Watch the video interviews we recorded to get a sense of who applicants have been, what their challenges were, and how they used their grant funds. That information will help you determine what you should share about your own business. 

The basics

Members of our advisory board, who determine the monthly grant winners, want to understand what your business is, first and foremost. What do you sell? Who are your customers? Why did you start it? How have things gone? If business is growing like crazy, why? 

If you’re comfortable sharing top-level financials, that can help make your case. Statistics are also useful, such as by explaining that costs have increased 45% in the last year but that you still managed to grow by 20% by raising prices. Or that 89% of your customers are repeat buyers.

By giving the advisory board context, or background, it helps them evaluate what you tell them next.

What is stifling your growth?

Since the Amber Grant was established to help companies grow, our advisory board is especially interested in understanding what’s restricting your company’s growth. What is your current bottleneck or obstacle? 

For example, if you’ve been offered a contract for embroidered sweatshirts, but you can’t accept the contract because you know you can’t meet the terms, that’s a growth challenge that grant money can fix. Or maybe you sell out of your cupcakes at 11:00 am every day and would like to be able to keep your display case stocked longer. That’s also a capacity problem, which better equipment or more help can fix. 

The key to your growth, you can explain to the board, is securing the resources that will provide more capacity. That capacity may come through being able to order more inventory, to stock up on raw materials, to invest in more equipment, or to hire more employees, just to name a few solutions.

How will the grant money help you be successful?

The advisory board also wants to understand how you’ll use the Amber Grant if you’re awarded the funds. How will you invest the $10,000 grant to have the greatest positive impact on your business?

Will you move into a larger space, renovate the space you’re in, outsource more of the production, build or update your website, upgrade equipment, or something else to address the bottleneck you’ve identified? Tell us.

And what are your long-term plans? Where do you want the business to be in three or five years? Do you envision multiple locations? A different clientèle? A broader product line?

Stay focused on your business

Although some business grant programs want to hear how you’ll benefit the community, since the Amber Grant’s primary purpose is to fuel a company’s growth, community service is not something we look for or expect you to do. In fact, if your community service could be perceived as interfering with the management of your business, or if you tell us you’ll give any part of the grant away to another organization, your odds of winning decline.

Although there is no limit to how long your Amber Grant application can be, don’t type five pages of information if you can cover all the relevant facts and figures in two.

While any stage business can apply for an Amber Grant, startups do face the challenge of not being able to report a financial history. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply, only that it may be difficult to demonstrate unmet demand if you haven’t been in business very long.

Competition for the Amber Grant is fierce, so make sure your application reflects your very best work.

Get More Done in Less time by Reducing Distractions

Friday, October 28th, 2022

The opportunities for distraction today are greater than they’ve ever been. With phones by our side 24/7, social media calling our name, and anxiety seemingly ever-present, it’s challenging for anyone to stay focused on any one task for more than a few minutes.

And yet, staying on-task is critical for progress to be made. Spread your efforts and attention over multiple tasks at one time and you’ll make little progress on anything, or the progress you do make won’t be your best work.

So, what’s the secret?

There’s really no secret or trick, but getting more done requires getting organized and setting yourself up to stay on task. 

Start with a to-do list

Getting more done starts with identifying what your highest priority tasks are. What’s on your to-do list?

It can help to make a master list of absolutely everything you can think of that you need to do, from drafting a blog post to responding to a customer’s email to picking up dry cleaning, placing your meal subscription order for next week, and paying your utility bill. Get everything out of your head and onto a sheet of paper or into a Google doc where you can see it.

Distinguish between important and urgent

Next, go through your list and identify the top things you must get done today. Rank them from 1 to 10. Although it’s best not to try to do more than three major things in a day, if some of your action items are sending emails or making phone calls, you can get more than three accomplished.

As part of your ranking process, think about which activities will have the greatest impact on your business success. Which proposal has the potential to bring in the most money? Which tactful email needs to be sent to calm an irritated client? Which Yelp review needs a response? Which supplier needs a call to clear up confusion about your order?

Some tasks may have deadlines that are in the next day or two and that could eat up most of your day, but are they really essential? Just because someone else has assigned a deadline doesn’t automatically make it important to you. (Sure, your sister wants a call back to catch up this afternoon, but is that the best use of your time today? If not, call her tonight or tomorrow.)

Then there are tasks that have deadlines that have the potential to make or break your business, like the deadline to be considered for a grant, or to be quoted in an article, or join a business accelerator.

Which to-dos are most important? Those go to the top of your list.

Break down larger tasks

Now that you have a list of your highest priority tasks, start with your top priority. Think through what it will take to complete this activity and break it down into 10-15-minute tasks. You may have been putting it off because it seemed so overwhelming, such as responding to an RFP or outlining a course you want to release. So, break it down into smaller pieces, and then break those down, and again, until each task is super quick and easy.

Finally, get that very first piece related to your top priority done. Then, move on to the next piece of that first priority, and to the next, and keep crossing those steps off your to-do list as you complete them. Only stop when you can’t do any more, either because you have an appointment to get to or because you need information from other people before you can do more.

At that point, it’s time for a break. Take a few minutes to relax, maybe take a short walk, get some lunch, for example.

After your break, come back and go through that same process for your second-highest priority.

Avoid multitasking

You’ve probably heard how inefficient multitasking, or task switching, is. Sure, it may feel like being on the phone while you also read or respond to emails is killing two birds with one stone, but it’s not. You’re not giving all of your attention to the person on the other end of the phone, which makes it less effective, and you may be missing key pieces of information in those emails you’re skimming.

Research has shown that you are up to 40 percent less productive when you multitask. Also, the results of your efforts are of lower quality. A London study found that “multitasking dropped a person’s IQ at the same pace that someone experiences after a sleepless night.” Meaning, you aren’t able to do your best work. 

Instead, do one task at a time. Focusing on one action item allows you to devote all of your attention to it, which will actually help you complete it faster.

Optimize your environment

Sometimes where you work impacts your ability to focus, so take steps to improve your surroundings. 

Cleaning your desk and work area off helps reduce distractions, because your eye is able to focus on what’s in front of you, and not what’s in the piles off to the side. Closing your email while you work also prevents new messages from pinging and alerting you, which can cause you to fear you’re missing something important. And if you work in a noisy setting, consider getting noise-blocking headphones to drown out the chatter or ambient sounds that can interfere with mental function.

If you know you need support to prevent you from taking a peek at social media, consider getting a program like Freedom, which blocks your access to certain websites for whatever period of time you specify. Want to force yourself to work uninterrupted for 30 minutes? Use Freedom to keep you from checking the latest Facebook or Instagram posts.

Once you’re clear on what you absolutely have to get done, by when, and you take steps to reduce potential distractions around you, you’ll get much more done faster.

The Basics of Pay-Per-Click Advertising

Thursday, October 13th, 2022

Businesses working to grow their social media following often decide at some point to explore the merits of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. Where blogging and content creation contribute to organic growth of your audience, paid online advertising can be a shortcut.

Digital advertising consultant Barry Hott recorded a video for the WomensNet community to try to explain the merits of the different ad platforms, when it might make sense to pay for advertising, and what you can do to improve the results that you get.

Choosing Where to Advertise

The first thing to understand, Hott says, is consumer intent, or how interested potential buyers may already be in your product or service. That will help lead you to the right platforms on which to advertise. Some platforms are best for high intent buyers and others work well with low intent consumers.

“People that are already looking for and thinking about what you’re selling,” says Hott, are high intent. They are primed to buy and are already searching for solutions or options using search engines.

Low intent buyers are consumers who are not already thinking about their need for your product or services, but who might be prompted to consider them when served up an effective ad. Hott describes a typical low intent scenario: “You’re watching TV. You’re not thinking, ‘Oh, I need to go to Burger King.’” But when a Burger King ad is shown on TV, the goal is to spark interest and get you to head there for a burger and fries, even though you previously weren’t considering it.

Make sure you’re choosing the right ad platform, based on whether you’re targeting high or low intent buyers. Sometimes this is based on whether you’re trying to generate sales or building your list or follower count for sales in the future.

High Intent Platforms

“Google ads are great for businesses where there is already intent,” Hott says. “People are searching to find the things they need. They’re entering their problems [into the search engine], which you can solve with your product or service.”

To get in front of those high intent buyers on Google, you can “optimize your site and get links so that you rank higher in Google,” he says, or “you can also pay to have the promoted top spots on those search pages.”

The cost to advertise will depend on how competitive the market is for your products or services. Auto insurance, for example, is extremely competitive, so costs will be higher, no matter whether your buyers are high or low intent. A product with a smaller market size is likely to be less expensive, because you’re competing with fewer advertisers for the exposure to your target audience.

With high intent buyers specifically, “You’re competing against other advertisers for those customers, who probably don’t need to be sold as much. You don’t have to convince them as much,” Hott says. You may have to convince them to choose your business over your competition, but you don’t have to educate them on the benefit of the product or its use.

Pinterest

“Pinterest is a great platform for advertising for both low intent and high intent,” says Hott, because people are doing intent-based searches there. 

Users often head to Pinterest for inspiration or product ideas, whether it’s for furniture or paint colors or jewelry. So, there is intent, though not as much as with a straight search engine like Google or Bing, Hott says, “but there is intent.”

Even for low intent buyers, Pinterest can be great because of its targeting features, which allow you to go after certain keywords, as well as interests or other categories, Hott says.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a great place to advertise if you’re selling business services, or expensive things that are more relevant to businesses, Hott says. 

However, he doesn’t love LinkedIn’s tracking capabilities, which he says is weaker than other advertising platforms. But if your target audience is business people, LinkedIn may be right for you.

Facebook

“Facebook is the ultimate low-intent sales machine,” according to Hott, who says it’s great for selling “pretty much anything” to low-intent audiences. The key with Facebook “is to make content that gets people’s attention and motivates them to take action,” he says.

Although Facebook’s interest-based targeting algorithm isn’t as good, or as relevant, says Hott, because its machine learning algorithm has gotten better, you can target audiences through your creative. 

Hott explains, “By making ads that are relevant to certain users, the more users that pay attention to it, Facebook has signals based on those users to show ads to more similar relevant users.”

Which means that you don’t have to obsess as much about targeting specific people, as long as you create ads that catch the attention of your target buyer. “Focus on targeting with your creative,” he says. “Focus on the user viewing it rather than your brand or yourself and you’ll do well.”

TikTok and Snapchat

Folks who are feeling creative may want to explore TikTok and Snapchat, which are video-based. Although you can run image-based ads, “I wouldn’t waste my time or energy,” Hott says. Stick with video there.

While the impression is that these platforms are for youth, that’s not the case anymore, he says. “There are audiences on there of all different shapes and sizes, and it is a quickly growing platform,” he says of TikTok. So don’t avoid it because you think adults aren’t watching—they are.

To get a sense of whether your content could do well on TikTok or Snapchat, first spend some time watching what’s working on the platforms. If you can create videos that match those that have lots of views and engagement, you can do really well, he says.

The key on TikTok is to have fun. Don’t overproduce your videos or try to cram in lots of content, because that’s not what viewers there want.

Start Small

Whether you have experience with online advertising or not, the biggest benefit to this type of marketing campaign is the ability to test the waters at a relatively low cost, Hott says. “You can dip your toe in at a small scale and as long as you use good data and tracking practices,” you can gather useful information.

For example, you could spend a few hundred dollars on ads this week and then stop advertising to take stock of what you learned. You can evaluate what you spent, what consumer actions were taken as a result, whether you generated any sales, and how much money you made. Then you can tweak your campaign to get better results next time.

Maybe the problem isn’t with your ads, for example, because you’re seeing a huge influx of traffic to your website or your landing page, but then you’re not seeing any sales. That suggests that your ad is performing well (because people are heading to your website) but your website or landing page is falling flat. So before spending any more money to drive traffic to your site, you need to make changes there to increase conversions.

PPC ads can become an integral part of your advertising program, but start small first, create an effective ad, and then put more money behind it once you see you’re getting the results you’re after.

It’s Time to Prepare for the 2022 Holiday Season

Friday, September 30th, 2022

Now that Labor Day has come and gone in the U.S., you know what that means—holiday season is just around the corner.

Yes, even as we’re enjoying fairly warm temps across the northern hemisphere, smart business owners are beginning to plan for Q4.

Although retailers are best-known for generating a large portion of their annual sales during the last few weeks of the year, the holidays can also be an opportunity for other types of businesses. Restaurants are often busier due to holiday parties, service-based businesses involved in holiday decorating and interior design get booked quickly, and tutors frequently find their schedules filled with students needing last-minute assistance prepping for finals and finishing papers, as a few examples.

There is a sense of urgency and excitement around the holidays that is unique to that season. So, take advantage of the buying frenzy by getting your ducks in a row early, to reduce any stress you may typically feel. Here are five steps to take now to feel less anxious and more in control:

Follow up with prospects to get any new business in the door before year-end

Many corporations suddenly discover toward the end of the year that they have money left in their budget that needs to be spent now, before it gets eliminated. You can help your clients by checking in to see if they might want to commit to the work you had discussed this year, rather than after the holidays. That way you can better plan your workload and they can pay with 2022 funds. Not only can this push clients to commit to hiring your company, but it can also help generate some new cash flow. All it takes is an email, phone call, or text to see where things stand regarding their previously stated need for your products or services.

Refresh your company website

As we head into the holidays, give prospects another reason to come back to your website, by adding new information and photography. You don’t have to give your website a complete overhaul, but make enough changes that visitors will notice something is different and stop to check it out. That will require updating your online images and product shots, as well as online copy. This is true whether your company sells products or services. With products, you can add new offerings and spotlight them in a blog post, for example. And with services, consider creating a new limited-edition bundle of offerings to address specific needs clients may have. The trick is to make some tweaks to your site now, before you get too busy in November and December.

Get your inventory organized

Speaking of spotlighting your products on your company website, if you’re a product-based business, now is the time to confirm all of your holiday season pre-purchases and get any last-minute orders in based on recent trend predictions. Make sure you have the products your customers will be looking for, whether you run a coffee shop, online reselling boutique, or ski equipment store. Given ongoing supply chain woes, checking on the status of your incoming inventory is essential.

Schedule a special event

When your customers are in a buying mood, give them a reason to connect with you through an invitation to an event. If yours is an accounting, consulting, or law firm, for example, that might mean scheduling a holiday open house at your office, where you give them a small token of appreciation for their business when they stop by. If you run a gift shop or book store, how about inviting an artist in for a demonstration, or an author in for a presentation. If yours is an outdoor business, schedule an event that is part opportunity to test out your products and part demonstration to get them excited about local recreation. You can also hold online events, such as educational summits or live sales events. Start thinking about what your best customers would most enjoy and then get something on the schedule.

Invest in some marketing and promotion

In addition to or in conjunction with a special holiday event, consider designing a special limited-time sales offer. It could be as simple as a discount, such as 25% off during a specific week or after buying a certain dollar amount from you, or as complicated as completing a series of tasks on your website to qualify for a giveaway. Other market tactics to consider include issuing press releases, pursuing guest blogging opportunities at complementary businesses, exploring being a podcast guest on relevant podcasts, or participating in holiday events in your area, just to name a few.

Even if the holidays aren’t typically busier for your business, you can still invest some time in making it more memorable for your customers, so that you end 2022 with a bang and tee up a great 2023.

Business Bookkeeping and Accounting for Beginners

Saturday, September 17th, 2022

“Running a business takes a lot of work,” confirms Elisabeth Lee of Lis Lee Accounting, who helps service-based solopreneurs learn how to manage their finances with confidence, so they can become more profitable. When you get the financial piece of your business to run more smoothly, you’ll begin to feel more in control and on top of things, she says. You’ll feel more confident about your ability to manage your business.  

Although business finances may seem or feel overwhelming, it’s important to remember that “your success is not based on your monthly revenue,” Lis says. Your business financials provide information, but they are not your identity. 

Bookkeeping and accounting are processes—a system of recording and reviewing your financial information on a regular basis. They will also change as you and your business grow, Lee says.

“Knowing your numbers allows you to plan and react from a place of empowered confidence, even when the scenario is not what you wish it was,” she says. “Knowledge and awareness still matter. If you are aware of what is, you can make better, more informed decisions and have more options at your disposal.”

Making Time for Finances 

To start, decide to set aside time regularly to focus on your finances, Lee says. You might have Finance Fridays or Money Mondays—it doesn’t matter what day—”but pick a time, put it on your calendar, and stick to it,” she says. This will help you stay on top of your financial situation and get the most out of your financial information. 

Lee recommends starting by setting a time for 30 minutes. That amount of time “keeps the task approachable and less overwhelming, and if you don’t finish in those 30 minutes, you can get up, do something completely different for five to fifteen minutes, take a little break, and then come back to it, and maybe do another 30-minute session.”

Your focus initially is on recording financial transactions. “Every day, every week, your business is generating transactions that need to be recorded,” Lee says. “These records are what make up your financial reports” and what makes it possible for you to make decisions confidently in your business. 

It’s much easier to record business transactions if they are in a separate account so, if you don’t already, you’re going to want to set up a separate business bank account specifically for all of the income and expenses your business will incur. “Make sure it’s an actual business account,” too, Lee says, rather than a personal account you designate as business-related.

Now let’s talk about how to record your sales and expenses, she says. 

Tracking Your Sales

When you generate a sale in your business, you need to record that somehow, to make sure know how much money you made throughout the year and also to ensure you’re filing accurate tax returns later. 

You can either type each sale into an Excel spreadsheet, or you can import it from your customer relationship management (CRM) or point-of-sale (POS) system that is directly connected to your bank account. “If you are using a bookkeeping system like QuickBooks or Xero or Wave, those can often times connect with your CRM or your point-of-sale to automatically bring your sales in which is super convenient and help save you time and headache along the way, Lee says. 

It doesn’t matter how simple or complex your sales processing system is, as long as you take time regularly to make note of each sale and date it.

Monitoring Your Expenses

Once you’ve recorded your revenue, you’re going to want to move on to recording your expenses, says Lee. Where revenue is when you make money in your business through sales, expenses are when you spend money in support of your business. 

For ease of tracking your expenses, you should think about the different types of expenses you have. These categories of expenses might include things like telephone, internet, raw materials, and advertising, just to name a few. Labeling different types of costs by category helps you better monitor what you’re spending money on, to spot any changes that affect the business, and also help you when you file your taxes. There your expenses need to be categorized in order to claim them as deductions. 

“The tax authorities do have rules and regulations as to what things can be deducted and how you need to record those things to make sure they are legitimate deductions,” Lee points out. “Best practices are to make sure you keep a record of everything you spent in your business.” So, if you’re using accounting software, that can make this process a lot easier for you because you can actually connect your bank account to the software and it will import every single transaction and all you need to do is review those transactions and label it by what the business purpose was; what did you spend the money on and for what purpose, when did you buy it, and do you have a receipt as proof. 

Using accounting software will make expense tracking much easier, especially when you connect it to your business bank account. QuickBooks, Xero, and Wave are the three Lee recommends.

Generating Financial Reports

Once you’ve tallied how much money your business has earned (sales), as well as what you’ve spent to keep the business running (expenses), your accounting software can easily generate reports to help you make better business decisions.

You’ll want to consider generating the following reports at least quarterly:

  • Profit and loss (also called an income statement). This report calculates your net income by subtracting your expenses from your income for the time period specified, such as weekly, monthly, or quarterly. This report breaks down how much you earned revenue-wise and what you spent in each category for that period, which can help with expense management.
  • Balance sheet. Your balance sheet helps lenders assess how your business is doing, by looking at what you own and what you owe. Your assets include your cash, physical items, real estate, inventory, and equipment, for example, and your liabilities and equity include all of your debt and your ownership in the business, such as your investments, money made, and money taken out of the business. A balance sheet “helps assess the health of your business,” Lee says, and “you want to have more assets than liabilities.”

Lee also recommends exploring the Profit First methodology as a way to ensure you are building profitability into your business. 

Setting up systems for tracking your revenue and expenses regularly can help you make smart decisions about where to focus your time and resources so that you can build a profitable business.

How to Incorporate Your Business Simply

Thursday, September 1st, 2022

One of the first decisions you should be thinking about while starting your business is what legal structure makes the most sense for your company. But even if you’ve been in operation for some time, it’s a good idea to occasionally consider whether a change should be made to how your business legally operates.

Toni Xu, the founding attorney at Xu Law Group, PLLC helps global entrepreneurs launch new businesses, including making the important decision regarding business structure. She recorded a video in the WomensNet Resource Center on the topic.

Legal Structure Options

In the U.S., four of the most common types of business structures are:

  • Sole proprietorship
  • Partnership
  • Corporation
  • Limited liability company (LLC)

Which one makes the most sense for your business depends on several factors, Xu says.

Sole proprietorship

“A sole proprietorship is a one-person company where you and your company are the same entity,” Xu says. According to the U.S. Census, 73.1 percent of U.S. businesses are sole proprietorships, probably because they are easy to form. “There is no need to file anything with the state,” she says, unlike with other types of entities.

“If you want to use a fictitious name for your company though, you may want to file what’s called a DBA, or “doing business as” certificate with your state,” Xu says. You need a DBA if your company name is different from your own, such as if you want to name your hair salon “Curl Up and Dye” or your consulting firm “Brains For Hire.”

Another advantage of sole proprietorships, Xu says, is that they are what’s called a “flow-through entity,” in that your business’ tax return flows through to your personal tax return at the end of the year.

There are drawbacks, however, with the biggest being that “because you are your company, if your company gets sued, your personal assets could be on the line,” she says.

Partnership

If you have multiple people who have formed a company together, they have a partnership by default. However, there are several forms of partnerships, all of which are governed by a partnership agreement. Some of the various types of partnerships include:

  • Limited liability partnership
  • General partnership
  • Limited partnership

As with a sole proprietorship, partnerships are also flow-through entities tax-wise. And, similarly, “if someone tries to sue the partnership, the personal liability of the individual partners could also be on the line,” she explains.

Corporation

There are two types of corporations: C-corp and S-corp. “Most major companies in the U.S. are formed as C-corps,” she says.

As part of owning a corporation, you must create a set of rules, called bylaws, to govern the company. You must also follow state laws, hold annual meetings, board of director meetings, and keep detailed minutes of those meetings, Xu says.

Within a corporation, there are three types of players: shareholders, boards of directors, and officers. Shareholders own the company, by purchasing stocks or shares. “They then elect a board of directors to govern the company. The board of directors, in turn, hires officers, such as CEOs, CFOs, and CTOs to run the company,” Xu says.

One of the key advantages of the corporate form is the ability to shield the owners’ personal assets from the company’s liability. “Unless there is fraud involved,” Xu says, “this shield is very hard to pierce.” Meaning, your assets are fairly well protected. If your company is sued, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you, as a shareholder, will lose your personal assets. “This is a very powerful tool to protect the owners’ money,” she says.

Another key advantage of a corporation is its ability to raise capital. Shareholders in a corporation can sell or transfer their ownership shares in the company. From the company’s perspective, if you intend to try to raise money to fund growth, a corporation may be the best choice.

A major disadvantage of the corporate structure is double taxation. “Because a corporation is treated like a separate legal entity, the corporation would be taxed first at the corporate level and then taxed again at the individual level when shareholders receive dividends,” she says.

Limited liability company (LLC)

Limited liability companies, or LLCs, are hybrid company structures.

That is, LLCs give you the same liability shield that a corporation does, Xu says, however, you can elect your own tax status. “So, if you are a single-person LLC, you may choose to elect your tax status as a sole proprietorship, and if you have multiple members, you may choose to be taxed as a partnership or S-corp,” she says.

Unlike corporations, “LLCs are easy to manage,” she says. There are no formal bookkeeping requirements and you can design how you would like to run your LLC through the use of an operating agreement.

Making Your Selection

“The ideal legal form of your company structure depends on a few factors,” Xu says. The number of owners is one consideration, but if you are the only participant, a sole proprietorship or LLC may be your best bet.

Your business model or need for capital is another consideration, and if you anticipate wanting to raise capital, a C-corp may be a good choice.

Whatever you choose at the outset, know that you’re not stuck. “A company may go through several different forms during its lifetime,” says Xu. “It is possible to convert your company from one entity type to another.”

Choosing the Best Website Platform for Your Needs

Monday, August 15th, 2022

Whether you’re starting a new company or have been in business for a while, when it comes time to design or update your company’s website, one of the decisions you’ll need to make is which platform on which to host your site, says Ronke Bade-Ojo, founder of The Pink Creative, a branding and website design studio.

Bade-Ojo recorded a video on the topic to help women business owners make this important choice.

Popular Platforms

The four most popular website platforms that small business owners select, Bade-Ojo says, are:

  • Shopify
  • Squarespace
  • Wix
  • WordPress

Which one is best for your business comes down to how tech-savvy you are and which features you are likely to make use of.

Product-based businesses frequently opt to go with Shopify, she says, which is considered “the industry standard.” It is also easy to set up and use, she says. Wix is another option but it is very limited from a search engine optimization (SEO) perspective and for that reason, she doesn’t generally recommend it.

Service-based businesses typically choose between Squarespace and WordPress, she says. Squarespace is easy to use “but limited as far as customization goes,” which means that long-term it may not suit your needs. WordPress “is the most robust platform available,” she says, and the only real disadvantage of selecting WordPress is that you’ll probably need a professional to set up and help manage your site.

Factors to Consider

Beyond whether you have a product or service-oriented business, there are other considerations to keep in mind when selecting a website platform, says Bade-Ojo. These are:

  • How often you plan to update the site. The frequency with which you update your site may depend on how often the products or services you offer change. Bade-Ojo gives an example of a photographer and says she has found that photographers prefer to update their websites with their photos regularly. If that’s the case, you’ll want to be sure you are comfortable updating your site yourself or are prepared to pay someone else to do the work for you.
  • How tech-savvy you are. The more tech-savvy you are, the more options you have. If you’re comfortable working in the back end of a website, any of the platforms can work for you. However, if you have no plans to learn web design, you’ll either want to select a platform that is simple to navigate or set aside the budget for someone else to do the work for you.
  • Whether you plan to blog regularly. If you intend to blog on a regular basis, WordPress is likely to be your best option, she says, because of the many built-in SEO features it has.

Startup Advice

If you’re in the process of starting a business and don’t have an existing website you’re working from, Bade-Ojo recommends buying a website template and keeping your site super simple at the outset. The reason is that your business is going to go through many changes over the next couple of years, so there is no reason to overspend or invest too much time and energy in a site that you will undoubtedly outgrow soon. Keep it simple.

When you get to a point where your business has matured and you’re ready to invest in a professionally designed site, Bade-Ojo recommends interviewing several web design firms before making your final choice. She suggests paying attention to:

  • Chemistry. You’ll be working closely with the designer, so make sure you like and trust them. Do they seem to understand your vision for your site? Can they communicate their ideas well? Are you in sync as far as your expectations?
  • Availability. Confirm that the designers you’re considering are able to work within your desired timeframe. Can they complete the work by your deadline, or by a date you agree to? You don’t want to hire someone and then have to wait many months for the finished product.
  • Design style. Most important, have you looked at their portfolio and seen designs you like for your website? Are there examples that are similar to what you envision for your company’s site? It’s better to choose a designer who has already proven they understand your aesthetic than to try to get someone who has more of a whimsical style, for example, to create something that is traditional or elegant; it may be too hard for them.

The good news is that if you select one platform and decide it’s not the best choice for you later, you can move your site. You’re not wedded to a platform forever.

Building a Social Media Presence

Sunday, July 31st, 2022

Having a social media presence should be part of any small business’s marketing strategy, mainly because using social media platforms to connect with target customers can be extremely cost effective. Tia Meyers Grado, founder of Freelancing Females, provides a quick rundown of the primary social media platforms small businesses may want to pay attention to in a recent video for WomensNet, as well as recommendations for building an online presence.

Popular Social Media Platforms

Although new social media platforms are springing up regularly, the most popular right now are:

Facebook. Facebook is where people “turn to update their statuses, talk to their friends and family,” says Grado. What sets Facebook apart is the ability to create Facebook groups, which is a useful tool for finding and connecting with ideal clients and then learning more about their needs and interests.

Instagram. Where Facebook is more about information-sharing, Instagram is “a visual representation of who you are as a business and the type of work you are offering to potential clients,” Grado says.

TikTok. TikTok is “a little more relaxed than other social media platforms and a place where you’d have fun,” Grado says. Product businesses find TikTok is a good place to talk about their offerings and demonstrate how to use them in short videos.

Twitter. Grado observes that Twitter is less useful for small businesses trying to reach clients, but says it can be effective for users who are trying to position themselves as experts in a specific category or industry.

Once you decide which platform to start with or focus on, it’s time to develop a plan for how to market through them.

Creating a Strategy

People use social media to connect with brands and to find products and companies they can trust, frequently based on what their friends and family are using and recommending, Grado says. Keeping that in mind, you’ll want to design a strategy for connecting with prospects before you start posting on social media platforms. Here are five steps to work through:

Your why. First, she says, “you want to understand the objective of what you are trying to do with your business.” What do you want social media to help you achieve? Are you looking for leads? Customers? Educating the market? Decide what your goal is up front.

Your niche. Unless you have an unlimited budget, it would be nearly impossible to serve every potential customer. To be realistic, you’ll want to narrow your focus to a subset of your total market, or your niche. For example, instead of all women in the U.S., you might serve women in the south aged 18-29. Or instead of all kayakers, you might serve people who kayak in the ocean. Choose a narrow niche for best results. You can expand later.

Your secret sauce. Besides a superior offering, what is your business known for? What is its reputation? Tesla is known for innovation, for example. Target is tops for cheap chic. Yeti has a brand reputation for durability. What word would customers use to describe your company? That’s your secret sauce.

Your uniqueness. What is it that makes your product, service, or business better than your competition? Do your kale chips taste exactly like potato chips? Does your cleaning solution remove stains on anything? Do you ship overnight free of charge, no matter how large the order size? What makes your company a stand-out?

Your ideal customer. When you are clear about who your product or service is meant for, creating a marketing message to attract that type of person becomes easier. That is especially true on social media.

Being clear on these elements makes it easier to design and create social media posts that achieve your objective. However, there are some do’s and don’ts you’ll want to be aware of as you start to share content online.

Do’s and Don’ts

You do want to “find photos that are going to capture your audience,” Grado says, with lighter photos being more popular than darker photos, by 24%.”

Your photos also need to be “honest, elevated, authentic,” she says. They don’t always have to be beautiful, but they do need to accurately represent your brand.

Do use images of people because “adding visuals of people does way better than any other type of content on social,” she says.

She cautions against offending your audience. “Don’t try to hard to make a joke or statement that could offend” people. Cancel culture is a real concern.

Don’t be overly preachy or constantly selling.

And don’t assume that everyone will be interested in what you’re selling. “And that’s okay,” she says.

Creating Content

To connect with your customer base, the key is presenting new content on a regular basis. Grado recommends posting at least five days a week on new accounts and at least three times a week for an existing account. She uses Planoly to schedule social media posts.

Hashtags are also must-haves, to target the correct audience. They are discoverable, meaning people can search for related content based on hashtags and come across your brand or company that way.

Now that you know how frequently to be posting, you may be wondering what, exactly, to share. Deciding on pillars of content, or types of posts, can be helpful. For example, one day a week you might share new product information. Another day might be devoted to case studies of customer success stories. Another day might feature videos with how-to instruction or vendor interviews, for example.

One pillar might be sales-focused while others might be more instructional, educational, or purely entertainment. After all, people frequently turn to social media for fun.

Keep in mind that one way to grow your social media audience is by creating shareable content. Frequently, what is shareable includes beautiful imagery. Offering freebies is another way to attract attention. Grado mentions one client that gave away free iPhone backgrounds to help build its email list.

The best way to get started is to create your first social media post and start engaging with your audience.

Protecting Your Business with Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents

Thursday, July 14th, 2022

What steps can you take to protect the brand name you’ve come up with for your business or product? Can you prevent others from copying the sales page you’ve crafted or the course you just rolled out? How about a product you invented or an app you developed?

The short answer is… yes. The U.S. government provides protections to creators of brands, intellectual property and inventions that can prohibit others from using unique words or phrases you’ve claimed as your own. 

Trademark attorney Nicole Swartz of Sprout Law provided an overview of the basics of protecting your brand and intellectual property in a video in the WomensNet Resource Center.

How to Protect Your Business

Swartz explains that “you can’t just pick any word or name you want” and start using it  in conjunction with your business without first checking that no one else has claimed it. For example, you may think attaching a well-known brand to your business would be a good idea, for popularity or credibility. And you would be wrong.

For example, if your name is Catherine Vansandt Smith and you decide you want to use your initials, CVS, on your new management consulting firm, a certain pharmacy would probably send you a cease-and-desist notice to stop you. Or if you’ve started a new landscaping firm and you want to call it Weed Eater, the manufacturer of an established line of weed trimmers might not appreciate that, because it could confuse their clients. Expect to hear from them as well.

  1. So, before you start using that clever name or phrase as your company name, conduct a trademark search.

There are more than 3 million trademark registrations filed in the U.S., Swartz, says, which makes it possible someone else had the same idea as you and has already laid claim to your new name. If you start using a word that someone else has trademarked, you can be sued, which can get expensive very quickly.

In addition to conducting a trademark search at the US Patent and Trademark Office, or hiring an attorney to conduct one for you, it is also a good idea to do some social media sleuthing. Even if a trademark hasn’t been officially filed, if someone else is already using a specific word or phrase, their trademark may be in-the-works. And you will be more likely to have your request for trademark protection rejected because you’re not the first to use it.

  1. If your search confirms that no one else in your state or country is using the same name, you can take the next step of filing an application for a trademark.

Because it costs money, don’t start your trademark application until you’ve completed a search that came up with no competing uses.

Swartz warns that it can take six months or more for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to review your application and 84% of the time, you will receive follow-up questions about your filing.

When you receive questions, you’ll want to make your best legal argument as to why you should be granted the trademark, Swartz says. Many questions have to do with clarifying how you intend to use it, such as on what types of products and services, so be clear about potential future uses, so as not to fence yourself in or limit future applications of your name.

  1. As the application process is nearly done, the USPTO will announce its intent to grant your trademark request in various publications and on websites and will ask for any objections, much like at a wedding (“speak now or forever hold your peace”). 

This is when you may discover other companies have product lines or similar enough names that they would not want you to receive approval. They can speak up and may potentially derail your application.

  1. If there are no objections or the objections can be resolved or dismissed, you will receive final trademark approval. You will need to demonstrate that you are using and intend to continue to use your new trademark, however.

The biggest advantage of a trademark is that you can stop copycats from stealing your name, to protect your brand, Swartz says.

Other Forms of Protection

Where a trademark is used to protect your brand and related elements, such as your logo, your tagline, slogan, or business name, a copyright and patent protect other intellectual property.

A copyright should be applied for if you are asserting ownership of written materials, such as blog posts, articles, books, music, and screenplays, among other types of documents. The purpose of a copyright is to prevent others from claiming your words as their own and using them for their benefit.

And a patent is a similar type of protection afforded inventions, processes, and formulas. Apply for patent protection if you’ve just created a new product or system.

Although filing for these types of protections costs money, you then earn the right to prevent other companies from commandeering your name without compensation, or to prohibit them from its use altogether. Trademark, copyright, and patent protection give you the right to stop others from stealing your intellectual property.

Women and Minority Business Enterprise (WMBE) Certification

Thursday, June 30th, 2022

During fiscal year 2020, the US federal government spent nearly $600 billion on goods and services from US businesses. What many women business owners may not realize is that they have a chance at landing some of that business.

In fact, the government has federal contracting quotas that require agencies and contractors to award business to woman-owned companies. The government’s current goal is awarding “at least 5% of all federal contracting dollars to women-owned small businesses each year,” according to the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting Program. There are additional programs for minority-owned businesses, veteran-owned businesses, and companies run by citizens considered “economically disadvantaged.”

However, that $600 billion figure is just for federal work—there is much more business available than that, including small business set-asides, which are government contracts that must be awarded to small businesses, as well as corporate subcontracting, which involves projects larger businesses have won and must delegate portions to smaller businesses, including woman-owned enterprises, plus state and municipal contracts.

So, what is a woman business enterprise (WBE) or woman-owned small business (WOSB)? According to the government, it is small, for-profit venture that is at least 51% owned and controlled by one or more female US citizens.

Marie Pazych, founder of Convergence Coworking, a freelance social media manager, touches on some of the advantages of applying for certification as a woman-owned business in this WomensNet video.

Why Get Certified?

The government has set quotas to encourage and incentivize organizations to hire smaller businesses owned by women, people of color, military veterans, and other disadvantaged individuals. To ensure that the companies being awarded subcontracts are actually owned and managed by individuals who fall into one or more of those classifications, the government created a certification process designed to confirm that owners are who they say they are.

By becoming certified, your business can qualify to bid on the government and corporate opportunities that are out there.

Certification Organizations

The type of organizations you want to do business with—meaning government agency or for-profit company—will point you to which type of certification you should apply for.  There are certification programs through the federal, state, and local government, as well as through WBENC, which is a third-party certifier that works primarily with corporations. Google your state or city and the word “WBE certification” to discover which agencies in your area offer certification programs.

Some agencies do accept “self-certification,” which means you’re swearing that your business is woman-owned and operated. There is no paperwork and no fee, only a signature to that effect. To start, you may opt to self-certify.

Disadvantages of Certification

The only real disadvantage of getting certified is the cost, both in terms of time and money. 

In addition to the WBENC, which spearheads WBE certification for many corporations, state and local organizations may also offer help with certification. They may also charge a fee for their time and guidance.

Perhaps even more inconvenient, however, is the amount of paperwork required for consideration. The government wants to see proof that you started or purchased your business and that you are in charge of its daily operation. The level of detail required can seem overwhelming.

First Steps

Before you jump in to pursue certification, start by setting up an appointment with your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), which you can find on the website of the Association of Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (APTAC). One of the agency’s services is advising you regarding whether your business would qualify for certification and whether it might be worth your time to pursue it.

Your PTAC should also be able to tell you what kind of contracts are currently available for which you may want to bid, the value of federal contracts for your type of business, and the agencies that are looking for service providers. That information may help you determine if it makes sense to pursue certification.

WNN Blog Get application & business ideas on the WomensNet blog »

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.”