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How to Get the Most out of Trade Show Attendance

Sunday, February 18th, 2024

With cost estimates for exhibiting at national industry trade shows as high as $40,000-$60,000, small businesses may wonder if they can even afford to participate in such events. After factoring in the cost to design, build, and ship a show booth, plus marketing materials and equipment, exhibition fees, labor, and accommodations, making trade show participation pay off may seem almost impossible. 

And yet there are some industries where one trade show can generate enough sales to keep a business busy all year. It is for that reason that all small businesses should at least explore how they might add trade show or conference participation to their marketing budget.

To ensure you’re making the most of any level of trade show attendance, here are some tips to maximize your return on investment (ROI):

Weigh exhibiting versus attending

If the cost of reserving exhibition space is out of your budget, you can still participate. It’s not an all-or-nothing decision. In addition to going to network, attend workshops, and make early buys of products (if that’s possible), you can also explore other marketing opportunities that don’t involve shipping a trade show booth cross country.

Advertise in the show magazine

Many larger shows provide participants with a glossy show guide or magazine. Explore whether buying ad space in it could be worth your while, even if you aren’t exhibiting.

Publish your own show guide

Producing your own newsletter or publication to hand out to show attendees is another way to share your story, educate your audience, promote what you’re selling, and invite discussion. If you can convince other companies to co-sponsor it, including information about their complementary products and services in it for a fee, they can help cover the cost and make it look and feel less self-promotional.

Explore publicity opportunities

Can your business be included in any articles slated for the show guide? Could you have the chance to submit an article on an approved topic? Can you place marketing materials in the show’s press room? Do the publicity opportunities change if you buy ad space (sometimes the two are intertwined)?

Inquire about speaking

Most trade shows and conferences have a learning component. If that’s the case at yours, ask the show organizer about speaking opportunities. Do they have a planned slate of workshops or could you submit a proposal for a topic? Or are speaking opportunities only available to exhibitors? Speaking on stage positions you as an industry leader and can set you apart from your competition.

Set up a sales suite

If renting space on the main exhibit floor is out of your price range, get estimates to rent a hotel suite close by. Unless you’re marketing major equipment, having a quiet space with food and drink available can work even better than trying to have an in-depth conversation on the noisy exhibit floor. And if you’re advertising in the show guide, you can even highlight that you’ll be in Suite #1234 for anyone who wants to chat about your products or services.

Host a special event 

Rather than competing with exhibitors for time with your ideal customers, look into sponsoring a cocktail hour at a nearby restaurant or a nightcap or dessert bar at a local bar. Personally invite your hot prospects and potential referral sources for a small gathering after the exhibit hall or conference space closes up. Or, conversely, set up a breakfast buffet before the event starts and let your prospects know.

Buy outdoor billboard space

If there are billboards near the convention center, get quotes for putting up a large ad on them. With attendees and exhibitors walking by as they enter or exit the space, those ads could be well worth the money. Use the space to make an offer for those who stop by your booth or visit your suite.

Give out promotional products

Whether you’re exhibiting or not, handing out clever gifts featuring your company name on them can be another way to get your name out there. Although cookies or chocolate with your company logo on them are often welcomed, they also disappear as soon as they’re eaten. A better choice would be a notebook, tech tool, or cloth bag for all of the materials they’ll collect.

Rent the attendee list

Many exhibitors are given a list of attendees and speakers as part of their package, but if you aren’t an exhibitor, can you rent the list for an additional fee? Ask for the cost. If these are your ideal prospects, it could be worth it to mail out a trade show follow-up message and offer.

Trade shows and conferences can be excellent places to get in front of your ideal clients and people who are in their inner circle. Even if all you do is buy a ticket to attend it, it may be well worth your time to go and reconnect with people in your industry.

24 Start Up Business Grants for Women

Thursday, February 1st, 2024

There are more than 14 million women-owned businesses in the US as of 2024. Those 14 million companies account for 40% of all businesses, according to Forbes

The number of women-owned ventures is also rising faster than businesses owned by other types of owners. According to the 2024 Wells Fargo Impact of Women-Owned Business Report, between 2019 and 2023, the number of women-owned companies increased at nearly double the rate of those owned by men. Between 2022 and 2023, the rate of growth was 4.5X male-owned businesses. 

Despite the growing numbers and economic impact — women-owned businesses employ more than 12.2 million employees and generate $2.7 trillion in revenue — access to capital remains an obstacle. It is more difficult for women-owned firms to secure debt or equity investments that would enable them to grow and expand. They are less likely to be approved for bank loans and even when they are approved, the amount loaned is often lower and the interest rate higher than for businesses owned by men.

Startup grants for women-owned businesses are a critical resource that can provide a path to success. Without the need to pay back the money or pay high-interest rates for its use, grants offer women-owned startups a way to get ahead.

Startup Business Grants for Women-Owned Companies

While there are a number of grant programs for women-owned businesses, many exclude early-stage or startup companies. However, the following programs were specifically designed to help aspiring or new women-owned businesses get up and running. 

Amber Grant

In 2024, WomensNet expanded its grant program to offer three separate $10,000 monthly grants. The Amber Grant is for any woman-owned business located in the U.S. and Canada. To that program, WomensNet added a Startup Grant, for early-stage businesses run by women, and a Business-Specific Grant that is designated for a business in that month’s industry (in February 2024, the grant will go to a business in the health and fitness industry, for example).

AWS Startup Loft Accelerator

Entrepreneurs (men and women) in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa with at least one technology lead employee on staff and are early-stage or pre-seed may qualify for the Amazon Web Services Startup Loft Accelerator. New cohorts begin monthly, offering a credit of up to $25,000 in AWS credits, a 10-week educational program, networking, and hands-on workshops to help you become “funding ready.”

Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards

The Cartier Women’s Initiative awards 27 awards—first, second, and third place grant amounts – to women entrepreneurs from nine regions around the globe. Grant amounts range from $30,000 for the third place winner to $60,000 for the second place winner, and $100,000 for the first place winner in each region. Additionally, winners receive access to low-cost loans of up to $200,000. Finally, winners receive custom business training, executive coaching, and in-person INSEAD workshops. Although the window for applications has closed for 2024, sign up to be alerted regarding the 2025 timetable.

Connecticut Ignite Grant Program

Women-owned businesses in Connecticut are eligible to apply for Ignite Program grants valued at between $2,500 and $10,000 from the Women’s Business Development Council. The money must then be used for a “clearly defined project that will have a measurable impact on the business, its growth and profitability.” The grant funds may not be used for operating expenses, real estate, reimbursement of past expenses, or debt repayment. The company must be at least 51% owned by a woman, based in Connecticut, and the owner must have invested at least $2,500 into the business in the last 12 months. The deadline to apply is March 14, 2024.

Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network US Dream Tech Contest

Members of Dell’s Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) are eligible to compete for Dell-sponsored products and services. This annual contest is open to US-based women-owned businesses with fewer than 100 employees. In 2023, the winner received $40,000 in Dell Reward Points and the second and third-place businesses received $15,000 and $5,000, respectively. Applications are not yet being accepted for 2024, but check back here to learn when they are available.

EmpowHer Grants

Boundless Futures Foundation accepts applications for EmpowHer Grants of up to $25,000 to U.S.-based woman-owned businesses that have been in operation less than 3 years. The entrepreneur must be at least 22 years old and “an applicant’s business must address a social issue directly or through its business model.”

The Foundation also gives Her Village grants to nonprofit organizations that support female entrepreneurs of up to $30,000.

Enthuse Foundation Grants

Women-owned businesses are eligible to apply for 10 annual Enthuse Foundation grants of $2,500 each. The grants “aim to solve challenges women entrepreneurs face directly.” The next round of funding opens in March 2024. Register to be notified when 2024 grant applications are available.

Freed Fellowship Grant

A $500  Freed Fellowship Grant is given monthly to a U.S.-based woman business owner, “no strings attached.” All of the monthly grant winners are then eligible for a $2,500 year-end grant. Each applicant receives a free assessment and recommendations to help them progress.

Galaxy Grant

Nonprofit Hidden Star gives an annual Galaxy Grant of $2,750 to one woman or BIPOC business owner. The deadline to apply in 2024 is March 31, 2024. The application is short and simple.

Giving Joy Grants

Giving Joy gives annual microgrants of up to $500 to women-owned businesses and nonprofits. Applicants can be from any country in the world as long as the female applicant is over age 18. The deadline to apply in 2024 is April 30, 2024.

Applications are scored on four criteria: 1) The degree of alignment with the Giving Joy Mission, 2) the degree to which the proposed grant activities are innovative, creative and will have a positive impact on women, their families and communities, 3) how effective the use of grant funding is for your proposed activities, and 4) the grant impact is clearly outlined, well-articulated, and measurable.

Halstead Grant

Emerging silver jewelers should consider applying for a Halstead Grant, which provides a $7,500 start up grant and $1,000 in jewelry-related merchandise to a “new jewelry designer.” Finalists receive $1,000 cash and $250 in merchandise. The application deadline for 2024 is May 1. A design portfolio and an application consisting of 15 questions is required for consideration.

Hawai’i FoundHer Program

Native Hawaiian and Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander early-stage women business owners in Hawai’i are encouraged to apply for the FoundHer Program, which gives financial support and guidance as part of the six-month accelerator. A cohort of 7 women-owned businesses based in Hawai’i will get started in March 2024. Those selected will receive a $20,000 grant and $4,000 care stipend (many participants are mothers) on top of weekly educational workshops and monthly retreats, in addition to access to a robust network of mentors and advisors. Sign up to be notified when applications for the next cohort are available.

HerRise MicroGrant

Funded by corporate sponsors of HerSuiteSpot, the HerRise MicroGrant provides $1,000 grants to businesses 51% or more owned by women of color. Nonprofits, franchises, direct sellers, resellers, or independent consultants are not eligible. Winners are announced on the first Friday of every month.

High Five Grant

Provided through The Mama Ladder, this grant program for mom entrepreneurs gave 24 grants of up to $5,000 in 2023 totaling $38,500. Part of the goal of the grant is to support women with children of all ages. Applicants submit their entries online and a team of judges selects the semi-finalists, which are then winnowed to a list of finalists. Although the 2023 finalists were announced, the 2024 application cycle should start in September 2024.

The Kitty Fund

Named in honor of Catherine “Kitty” Abrams Tadlock Webster, mother of Founders First CEO Kim Folsom, the Kitty Fund gives $1,000 grants to up to 25 entrepreneurial moms. To be considered, the business owners must be mothers, who have been in business at least 1 year (so not necessarily a strict startup) with at least two employees and revenue under $5 million. Applications will be accepted starting in March 2024.

Ladies Who Launch

Open to women and nonbinary business owners, the Launch Program offers capital of $10,000 plus six months of free education and an industry expert as mentor. Applications will become available in February 2024 for the next cohort. The 2023 cohort was open to consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies with between $100,000 and $499,000 in annual revenue.

Michigan Olga Loizon Foundation Grant

Women-owned businesses located in Michigan may be eligible to receive up to a $10,000 grant from the founder of Olga’s Kitchen restaurants, in whose name the Olga Loizon Foundation was established. In addition to doing business in the state, female applicants must also reside in Michigan, provide a personal statement explaining their financial need, as well as a written business plan.

Minnesota Founders First CDC and the Center for Economic Inclusion Vanguard Accelerator

Latina and black women business owners in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area may be eligible to apply for one of 10 grants of $5,000 each as part of the Vanguard Accelerator. The grants will be given to women-owned B2B ventures based in Minneapolis-St. Paul, owned by Latina and black women, who have at least 3 employees, have been in business at least 3 years, and have revenue of between $75,000 and $3 million. The application period closes on February 21, 2024.

In addition, applicants can be considered for scholarships to the accelerator program and access to funding through forgivable loans of $25,000 to $250,000.

Papaya Reusables Grant

One U.S.-based woman-owned business owner will receive a $10,000 grant to fuel her company’s growth from Papaya Reusables. Sign up to be notified when grant applications open again.

Shea Moisture

Wellness and beauty company Shea Moisture supports three different grant programs through partnerships with other brands, each providing at least $10,000 in funding, up to $100,000 to Black and women-owned beauty or wellness businesses. The Next Black Millionaires grant offers grants up to $100,000 to US-based Black-owned businesses that have been in operation at least two years and have at least $25,000 in annual revenue. In partnership with Brown Girl Jane, grants for Black and women-owned beauty and wellness companies that have been in business at least one year are available, worth $10,000-25,000. The Blueprint Grant offers up to $10,000 and one-on-one support to US-based Black women business owners between the ages of 18 and 35. Application windows vary, so sign up to be notified regarding upcoming grant opportunities.

Stacy’s Rise Project

This collaboration between Hello Alice and Stacy’s Pita Chips supports women-owned businesses primarily in the food and beverage industry. The 16-week mentorship program awards 10 companies $25,000 each. To be eligible, the companies must be woman-owned, generating between $25,000 and $1 million in revenue, and not part of an accelerator program at the time of application. The application period typically opens in October, so check back in October 2024 for the 2025 cohort.

Texas StartHER Grant Program

Sponsored by the Texas Woman’s University’s Center for Women Entrepreneurs, the StartHER grant offers 25 aspiring or current women entrepreneurs $5,000 grants to fund their businesses or innovative ideas. To qualify, among other things, the company must be located and operated in the state of Texas, have fewer than 5 employees, and the business owner must be current with all financial obligations. Applications for 2024 will be available from September 3 – October 4, 2024.

Tory Burch Foundation Fellows

Each year the Tory Burch Foundation selects 50 women business owners to participate in a year-long fellowship program, which consists of $5,000 in grants, access to no-interest loans, networking, workshops, and live and digital educational programming. The 2024 application has not yet been posted.

Women Founders Network

The 11th annual Fast Pitch Competition for women entrepreneurs is open to US-based female entrepreneurs who have raised no more than $750,000 in outside funding. Business owners should apply either in the technology category or in the consumer products/non-tech category. Founders who apply must be willing to travel at their own expense to participate in the October 24, 2024 Fast Pitch event. The application window opens from April 1 to May 31, 2024 and in 2023, Women Founders Network awarded $55,000 in cash grants and more than $100,000 in professional services to winning businesses.

Other Grant-Finding Resources

IFundWomen Database

Much like the college common application, the IFundWomen Universal Grant Application Database allows women business owners to submit a single application and be matched with grants for which they may qualify. As new grants are added to the database, entrepreneurs are alerted and invited to apply. American Express, Neutrogena, and Visa are just some of the previous grant partners.

Anatomy of a WomensNet Grant Application

Monday, January 15th, 2024

Michaella Estevez and Ashley Olafsen, co-founders of The Wildflower Company, caught the attention of the WomensNet advisory board with their detailed grant application.

By explaining the big picture for their “wellness community centered around value-driven goal-setting and structured support” and the annual planner they designed, developed, and sell, The Wildflower Company was the $10,000 Startup Grant winner for November 2023 from WomensNet.

Providing some background information

Olafsen and Estevez started their grant application by explaining the origins of their product and business. 

They said, “A few years ago, we noticed a concerning trend among our post-grad friends: everyone was experiencing some degree of overwhelm and aimlessness during the transitional period after college. Although some of this was to be expected, this overall lack of direction, stress, and burnout significantly affected everyone’s mental health and sense of fulfillment.”

That was the problem, or the gap in the market that seemed not to have a solution.

This led to some conversations between the two friends about what it might look like to “design your dream life alongside your best friends.”

To start to explore that question, they created an online goal-setting group in late 2020 for their best friends and shared “a framework for designing an aligned, balanced, and fulfilling life.” This group effectively became their Beta test group or an initial trial run.

Throughout all of 2021, the group met monthly “to set goals, hold each other accountable, and reflect on a pathway toward a meaningful life.” By sharing their hopes and dreams within the group, the friends “worked towards intentions and goals and ultimately created lives we were truly proud of.”

The process got results. Olafsen reported, “One of our friends was able to quit her 9-5 job to become a full-time YouTuber – a dream she’d been pursuing for over a decade.” Others also accomplished their goals and made progress in designing the life they aspired to have.

Buoyed by the group’s achievements, Estevez and Olafsen began formalizing the process that had emerged. They decided to create a mindfulness planner “that would pair seamlessly with a community-led accountability group.”

In March 2022, the now-business partners crowdfunded $15,000 to manufacture their first line of planners for women in their 20s. They launched the planner in October 2022 and have continued to build on their early success.

Sharing specific facts and figures

After describing their business and how it came to be, the business partners then told the financial story of their business within their application. 

They started by making a case for demand, which is the first question any advisor, investor, or grant committee wants to see. No one wants to give money to an organization that can’t use it to continue to grow — businesses that are struggling and on the verge of collapse are unlikely to convince a grant committee to give them more money.

That wasn’t the case with The Wildflower Company, they demonstrated.

They shared their sales statistics, customer base, email list size, growth rate, and projected revenue for 2024.

The company was in growth mode and was being held back by access to capital, they communicated.

Explaining how the funds will be used

After proving sustainable demand for their products and services, The Wildflower Company walked us through how a $10,000 grant would catapult the business.

With $10,000, they explained, they could “fund the second production run of our physical planner products.” They continued, “We are nearly sold out of our first production run and need funding in order to purchase more products.” A grant would enable the business to produce 600+ more planners.

Whenever you can show how a grant will quickly be converted to sales, you’re doing well.

Takeaways and hints

The entire application was less than two pages long. However, within those pages, Olafsen and Estevez provided background on why and how the company was founded, gave evidence that the product is effective, that they have an audience ready to buy from them, and that they know what they need in order to ramp up growth.

Although they were able to make a case without other details, it’s always good to include:

  • Background on who you are and what relevant experience you may have in this space. Olafsen, for example, is a 4X founder and helps lead a university entrepreneurship program for women, which gives her added credibility that she didn’t mention.
  • Marketing details, to explain where you’re connecting with your target audience and how well you’re converting prospects to buyers.
  • Future plans are also good to mention, if you have a vision for how your business might expand. There are so many ways The Wildflower Company could choose to go and it would have been interesting to hear more about their vision, if they were willing to share.

These pieces of information would have been added bonuses, however, because, the application was strong without those details. That’s why The Wildflower Company was our Startup Grant winner for November 2023.

6 Ways to Improve Your Website’s Performance

Friday, December 29th, 2023

We all know that the look and feel of websites change over time. The design and aesthetic of business websites evolve and shift and unless you’re paying close attention, you might not notice when the appearance and functionality of what is considered the “standard” website is completely different from a year or two ago.

Suddenly you may wonder if your company’s website looks outdated or old. Of course, you don’t want to appear behind the times, but what do you need to do to bring it into 2024?

Many women business owners are asking this same question: how do you improve your website’s performance? Do you need a complete overhaul or can you refresh a few elements and be considered current? That depends on what shape your website is currently in, and here are the 6 first places to start to improve your site’s performance:

1. Conduct a site audit

It’s hard to know what you should or could improve on your website without knowing what’s weak about it.

One quick and easy step to start is to run a site audit, which Semrush will do for free. Type in your URL and SEMrush will give you a rundown of where your site is above average in terms of performance and where it needs work.

2. Update your website’s appearance

Today’s online visitors are very visual. They prefer big images, so peruse your website and compare it to some of your competitors’ websites. Are the images crisp, clear, and large on your homepage?

Color is also evident on many websites right now. Do you have splashes of color or images that are vibrant and color-rich?

Web design is also simpler today than a few years ago. According to Bluehost, “today’s users prefer scrolling web pages (rather than different pages that you have to click on in a drop-down menu),” so you’ll want to rethink how site visitors currently access the information you have available. If your navigation bar uses pop-up menus, you may want to consider a refresh.

3. Reduce image load time

Believe it or not, the amount of time it takes for your website to load is a factor in whether visitors are willing to wait and buy from you. If your images are large, they can take several seconds to load, or appear on-screen. Sometimes if they take too long to load, your buyer may have already moved on to a provider with an optimized site.

The solution in many cases is to reduce the size of your images, not necessarily in terms of measurements but in terms of storage space. The higher the resolution, the longer it takes to load. Reducing the resolution typically doesn’t affect the appearance of the image but it can speed up how quickly it is shown on-screen.

PageSpeed Insights, which uses Google data, is one tool you can use to assess whether your website is slow or not and to pick up tips for what you can do to speed it up. All for free.

4. Create keyword-rich content

One website performance measure is Google rank, or where in a list of search results related to your business your website would appear. The terms your target audience uses to look for businesses like yours are your keywords and key phrases. When prospects type in those terms, ideally your business website is listed first in Google’s search results.

Of course, being listed first isn’t easy. Convincing Google that your business is the very best option that visitors should be shown comes down to demonstrating that your website has more to do with the search term than any other website. According to Wordstream, “Google is looking for pages that contain high-quality relevant information about the searcher’s query.”

That’s tough to do, but a good place to start is by regularly adding relevant content to your site. That content can be blog posts, articles, videos, audio clips, and/or images related to keywords and key phrases that your audience is looking for. The more new information Google sees that you’re sharing, regularly, the more confident it will be that you’re a good source of information related to those keywords.

5. Eliminate broken links

There are few things more annoying to site visitors than clicking on a link and having it go nowhere. Even if the link may seem inconsequential to you, such as if it takes the viewer to a report on an esoteric topic, if a visitor goes looking for that report and can’t find it, they will be irritated with you.

You don’t want that to happen.

So, while your website won’t be penalized by Google for broken links, which appear as 404 errors on the screen, you should do all you can to ensure any links are active. Fortunately, there is a free tool that will alert you to any links on your site that are dead or inactive.

6. Include a call-to-action (CTA)

When visitors get to the bottom of your homepage, or to the end of the section they are viewing, what do you want them to do next? What action should they take once they know a little about your business and its products or services?

Do you want them to schedule a 15-minute introductory call? Do you want them to fill out an application? Do you want them to head to your online store and shop with you? Watch a video? Subscribe to your newsletter? 

Your prospects need, or at least prefer, to be held by the hand and told where to go and what to do next in your sales process. Make it clear to them what happens once they’ve decided they want to buy from you. Don’t make them have to hunt for the Buy button or for your Calendly link to schedule a phone appointment.

If you take the time to implement even one of these tips, your website performance should improve. Of course, the more you do, the faster your performance will improve.

4 Things to Know About Grants

Sunday, November 26th, 2023

Although they can be difficult to find, small business grants are out there. They are frequently harder to track down than other financing options because grants offer free money, often without strings attached. Unlike loans which have to be repaid over time, grants are effectively gifts, as long as you agree to use the money as the granting organization stipulates. That is, if you’re offered money to buy new equipment for your business, you need to buy new equipment and not go on a cruise or pay down personal debt.

To be given serious consideration for these grants, however, there are four important things you should keep in mind as you decide whether to apply for one.

1. Confirm you are eligible

Read the fine print in the grant information to be sure you or your business qualifies for consideration. There is no reason for you to waste precious time and money applying for a grant for which you have no chance of winning. Invest your resources elsewhere, rather than trying to convince the grant committee to change its requirements.

For example, are there geographic restrictions? Some U.S. grants target small business owners in particular cities or counties. You have to live or work there in order to be eligible. Similarly, the Amber Grant is open to women business owners in the U.S. and Canada, so if your business is not based in one of those two countries, don’t bother applying.

Another frequent qualifier is revenue. Many grants put an upper limit on revenue. Other grants may list a number of employees as a qualification. Some grants may want to see that you have employees other than yourself, and others may want to see you have fewer than 50 or 100, especially if the grant is to nurture micro businesses.

Other criteria could include gender, industry, number of years in business, or type of product or service. 

2. Understand the grant’s purpose 

Be clear about the purpose of the grant or the mission of the organization providing the funds. The grant description may not come right out and say it, but you can often get a sense of who the funding source is trying to help by reading the About section of the organization’s website.

The eligibility description is one indicator of who the grant is trying to help, but take a close look at the history of the grant, too. Why was it originally established? That can provide a big clue as to what the grantor hopes the money will do for the grantee (the person given the money).

Some grants are given to help turn a community around following a natural disaster, for example. If so, you would want to highlight how you and your business were affected by that disaster.

Other grants are given to help small businesses grow faster. In that case, you’d want to spend time describing the growth path your company is on and how the grant funds could help you scale or expand faster.

Sometimes corporations establish grant funds to help pull up smaller players in their industry. If that’s your situation, try to draw parallels between your business’s trajectory and that of the sponsoring organizations. Try to show them that you aspire to follow in their footsteps.

3. Check what is being awarded

While most business grant programs offer some type of financial reward, some include business services as part of the package or as a prize for some of the top candidates. Verify that the prizes offered will be useful for your business.

Sure, most companies could use some cash to fuel their business’s growth, but if the cash amount is small and the bigger prize consists of products or services, decide whether your business needs them. There is little reason to apply for a grant if the majority of the awards are not relevant to you or your situation.

For example, if a grant program offers a small cash award and a major overhaul of the business’s website, and you just invested a ton of money in designing and launching your new site, this grant may not be a fit for you right now. If you’re not interested in revamping your website, don’t bother applying.

Or if one of the prizes accompanying the grant is participation in an accelerator thousands of miles away and you know you can’t split your time between your home and the accelerator, don’t spend time applying. Find other grants that are closer to home or that don’t have that requirement.

Unless you need and want all of the awards being offered, think long and hard before you spend hours drafting a grant application.

4. When is the deadline?

As soon as you learn of a grant that might be appropriate for your business, check the submission deadline. Is it realistic to apply this year, given the other work you have on your plate? Do you have enough time to compile the financials, to pull together the background information required or the growth plan requested? Be realistic, rather than rushing to squeeze it into your already packed schedule.

If you believe you have the time, work backward from the deadline to map out a plan for getting all of the information submitted well in advance.

And if not, put it on your calendar for next year, so that you can plan ahead.

Finally, it’s also important to know that many grant programs exist to help small businesses grow and thrive. Grant committees want to find companies whose growth is being limited by their access to capital and that could immediately benefit from a cash infusion. Few grants exist to help prop up failing businesses, however. If you need money to stay afloat, a grant is unlikely.

Most grant committees want to see that you have a product or service that has demonstrated product-market fit. Meaning, that there are customers willing to pay money for your product or service. If your business is struggling because you don’t have enough customers, or enough customers willing to pay your rates, you may need to pivot your business model before you’ll qualify for a grant.

When writing your application, focus on your strengths, your accomplishments or milestones to date, and how the grant money will help your business be even more successful.

Creating a Profitable Black Friday Sales Offer

Saturday, November 11th, 2023

Whether you are a fan of Black Friday shopping or not, billions of dollars in sales are transacted on the Friday after Thanksgiving each year. In 2022, between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, $20.4 billion was spent

Part of the reason for the huge spike is that some buyers hold off on purchases until Black Friday in the hopes of getting a great deal. An estimated 47% of people buy something on Black Friday that they had wanted “for a while” and end up purchasing at a discount, according to Tidio.

Although retail sales are the biggest beneficiaries of all that spending, with clothing, jewelry, and beauty products being the big winners in recent years, companies in all industries should take advantage of the opportunity to offer a special deal to their customers and prospects. 

In fact, customers may be waiting, hoping for an offer they can’t refuse from you.

Designing a Tempting Black Friday Offer

Retailers have trained consumers to expect deep discounts, freebies, or special promotions on Black Friday. Use that anticipation and excitement to offer a special deal to your customers and prospects, who may very well have been waiting for you to give them a reason to buy from you.

However, don’t get so caught up in the season that you mark your products or services down too much. You still want every sale to be profitable.

Some ways to package or repackage what you sell include:

Free Gift with Purchase

Cosmetic brands have been using this technique for decades with great success. Take a cue from them by promising a free gift with each purchase over a certain dollar amount on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. That gift should be generic enough to be useful to nearly every customer, complementary to what you sell, and valuable enough to make them want to spend enough to get it.

For example, if you sell jewelry, you could throw in a jewelry cleaning solution. If you sell content, such as a certain number of articles and blog posts, you could throw in a free 90-day content calendar for every client who commits to a six-month package. Or if you run a restaurant, you could give away a free dessert with every gift card purchase. Think about what your clients would most appreciate and find a way to give them a variation that won’t cost you a lot of time or money.

Bundle Several Products Together

Another approach to providing an unbeatable deal to your target market is to bundle several items together—they can be products or services—and then discount the total retail price.

For example, if you run a beauty salon, you could offer a day of beauty that includes a haircut, color, facial, and manicure and pedicure at a price that is less than what all five services typically cost when purchased separately. If you’re a florist, you could sell a year of flowers, where the recipient receives a new bouquet of your choice on the first of every month, priced at less than what 12 arrangements would cost. Or if you’re a personal trainer, you could offer a package deal of a set number of workouts, plus a yoga mat and massage for less than what the bundle costs every other day of the year. 

Be creative! What combinations do your customers frequently buy together? Use that as your guide to bundling.

Limited Edition Product

Another option is to create something unique that will only be sold on Black Friday. 

Although not a Black Friday offer, Fisher-Price creates a limited edition Little People toy collection of Buffalo Bills football players each fall, with a portion of the profits going to a Buffalo charity. You could do something similar. A clothing retailer could make a special edition top or scarf, for example. An interior designer could sell a special edition holiday pillow or tablescape. A bakery could sell a limited edition cookie or cake. When you sell out of the item, it won’t be available again.

Charity Collaboration

You could also partner with a charity and announce that a portion of sales for the day will be donated to that organization. You could choose to donate a portion of all your sales that day or designate a specific product or service and have a portion of the sales for those items be donated.

For example, if you run a car wash, you could have 25% of all sales of monthly passes donated to your charity of choice. If you’re a gift shop, you could have sales of a particular brand set aside for the charity. Likewise for an art or craft supply shop—you could have a percentage of sales of a particular product category or brand donated.

The advantage of partnering is that the charity can support you by encouraging its donors to make a purchase from you on Black Friday. Even if you donate a portion of sales, if the charity can send you additional business, the increased volume could help replace those dollars.

Massive Discount

Of course, Black Friday is known for the steep discounts major retailers announce. Those big savings are what many shoppers are looking for, however, you don’t necessarily have to offer huge savings all day long.

Some retailers have hourly deals, where the earliest shoppers save the most. NTY Clothing Exchange Pittsford, for example, typically offers 40% off nearly everything in the consignment store for the first hour that it is open on Black Friday. However, every hour after, the percent discount declines by 10%. So, during the second hour shoppers only get a 30% discount, and the third hour it drops to 20%. That’s another way to push customers to shop early.

But don’t feel pressure to slash prices if you can’t afford it. If your margins are thin, consider hosting a special event on Black Friday instead, such as a demonstration, free class, or even just free refreshments. Make your business a Black Friday destination and you may not need to design a major sales promotion.

How to Better Secure Your Business from Theft

Friday, October 27th, 2023

News that Target, Whole Foods, and Nordstrom are closing some stores in 2023 due to increasing incidents of theft underscores how expensive crime can be. 

The cost to companies is in the billions of dollars collectively, the U.S. Department of Commerce says. But if major corporations are retreating due to the negative impact theft is having on their businesses, imagine the impact theft has on smaller businesses without the cash reserves or financial resources larger organizations do.

So, what can you do to protect your company from crime?

Although nothing is ever foolproof, there are some steps you can take to make it more difficult for unscrupulous people to steal from you.

Preventing theft from inside

A report from Willis North America estimates that employees account for as much as 90% of all corporate theft. Given this massive statistic, focusing prevention efforts on folks inside the business makes a lot of sense.

Some of the best tactics you can use to curb theft from employees, suppliers, vendors, and visitors include:

  • Careful screening of job applicants. Before you ever allow anyone access to your business, do a thorough background check. In addition to interviewing them, talk to people they’ve worked with to get a better sense of their personality and work ethic (LinkedIn is great for that). Some companies run a personal credit check to see if the candidate is responsible with money.
  • Locking down company assets. This includes tangible assets like raw materials, files, and inventory as well as intangibles, such as processes, intellectual property, and finances. Make it difficult for anyone to walk off with goods that aren’t theirs by instituting a sign-off policy, for example, or an approval process that forces multiple eyes to look over a request. Intangible assets, such as computer-based documents and information, can be protected through passwords and online tracking. One-third of employee theft cases occur due to lack of internal controls, or checks and balances set up to spot bad behavior, reports the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.
  • Using purchase orders. By generating purchase orders that need to be checked against delivered products and services, you create a paper trail that can help reduce the opportunity for employees to pocket some cash or product.
  • Guarding your checkbook. Instead of handwriting checks for payment, print checks out once they are registered in your bookkeeping system. That will make it easier to spot any checks that are missing. Also, lock your checks up in a safe to restrict access to them.
  • Installing security cameras. A physical security system that monitors hallways and common areas can help keep an eye on suspicious movements or behavior. You may not want to invade your employees’ privacy by installing cameras in offices, however, and it may not be legal.
  • Setting up an anonymous process for reporting theft. Sometimes employees want to do the right thing and alert management to what’s going on without any backlash. To make it possible for employees to alert you to underhanded dealings that are going on, create an anonymous reporting process, such as a physical suggestion box or online form, and encourage employees to speak up.

Although the majority of theft is attributed to workers inside the company, it still makes sense to prevent outsiders from breaking in, too. 

Providing external security

To prevent others from breaking in to steal from your company, there are a number of physical security tactics you can employ:

  • Reduce the number of entryways. The fewer the public access points, the less monitoring you need to do. Direct visitors to one entry and keep delivery area doors locked. You can designate employee-only entries and keep sensitive areas inside, like counting rooms, locked. Whenever an employee leaves the company, change the locks or passcodes to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Increase exterior lighting. There’s a reason many businesses have exterior flood lights shining brightly — because lighting has been found to deter criminals from trying to break in. In fact, 75% of commercial break-ins are due to inadequate lighting. Keeping some lights on inside is also a good idea, to make it obvious when something is going on that shouldn’t be. 
  • Add a layer of living deterrent. In addition to adding lighting, consider planting thorny bushes under windows to make it uncomfortable for thieves to attempt to access via the windows.
  • Make windows less breakable. Since thieves often attempt to gain entry by smashing windows, apply a protective window film to make it more difficult for robbers to get through. The film is still permeable, eventually, but may make it time-consuming enough to deter someone from trying to get in.
  • Invest in exterior cameras. In addition to strategically placed cameras indoors, pointed at doors and hallways, for example, installing exterior cameras to monitor doorways, walkways, and parking lots can add a level of security that can help keep thieves at bay.

In addition to implementing processes and technology to safeguard your people and property, consider adding insurance to help cover the cost of replacing anything that is stolen. Few business owners ever regret the investments they make in securing their companies.

Maximize Your Business Deductions Before Year-End

Saturday, October 14th, 2023

As we head into the busiest and most profitable time of year for retailers, restaurants, and holiday-related companies, businesses of all types should start to assess where they are financially. 

That is, how is your business performing revenue-wise? Are you ahead of projections or behind? How about expenses? Has your cash outflow for costs tracked with what you expected, or have you spent more than you anticipated by this time in the year? How about headcount? Orders? Utilities? Shipping?

With three-quarters of the year behind us, it’s time to evaluate where you are with respect to where you wanted to be when you set goals back in January. Once you know where you stand, you can then strategize how to improve your financial position before the year is actually over.

Of course, we are not your accountant or legal advisor, so be certain to check with your accountant before you execute any of these potential tactics. Your state or county’s regulations may be different, and whether you use a cash or accrual-based system will also impact whether these ideas can work for you.

Invest in needed technology and equipment

If you’ve been considering upgrading your computer system or buying equipment that will make your business run more efficiently or smoothly and you have profits you can invest, before the end of the year might be a good time to buy them. By using available funds to pay for assets that will benefit your business long-term, you’ll improve the value of your company while reducing your short-term tax obligation.

Stock up for next year

Or, if you determine that your taxes owed will be higher than you’d like, one way to reduce your burden is by increasing your expenses. Just spending money frivolously is never good for business, but investing in materials you know you’ll need next year could be a good idea. 

Buying raw materials in advance that you know you’ll need later, such as to manufacture inventory or to keep your shelves filled, printer running smoothly, and employees productive, could be a smart money-saving tactic. 

Office supplies, software subscriptions, packing materials, and/or utility bills could fall into this category. 

Paying now for next year’s expenses is another potential move, such as association memberships, travel, or training and education fees. Check the refund policy closely, however, in case plans change or people leave and you no longer need those memberships or travel arrangements.

Make charitable gifts

Another way to reduce your taxes is by giving more money away to charity. If you’ve been considering making a cash or in-kind gift to an organization on behalf of your business, sending the check before year-end can help reduce your tax bill.

Fund your retirement plan

If your business offers all employees a retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or simplified employee pension (SEP), you could consider paying out a bonus into those accounts. It’s likely all employees need to receive compensation, whether they have a retirement account through your business, however, so definitely check on how to handle that before you start making deposits.

Delay billing

Another potential strategy – again, check with your accountant – is to push billing for products or services you’ve sold in late 2023 into 2024, so as to reduce your revenue for this year. This is generally legitimate if you will continue to service the client into the new year. If all of your work will conclude in 2023, however, you should bill in the year in which the work was done.

However, you won’t count the income this year unless your client also makes payment this year; if they opt to pay in 2024, the revenue gets credited to next year’s books.

This is risky, however, because if your clients’ fortunes change in the next few months, there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to pay in January. Weigh the risk of never getting paid against getting paid now but having to pay higher taxes on that revenue.

Again, please check with your accountant before implementing any of these tax-saving measures, but also explore what else you might do to hold onto more of your hard-earned revenue. Bench Accounting has a handy list of common business deductions that you should check to ensure you’re claiming all the deductions to which you’re entitled.

Improving Your Circle of Friends

Thursday, September 28th, 2023

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Which means that the results you’ve been achieving individually and as a business owner have been impacted by the people in your inner circle. They are your role models, your counselors, and your confidants, and they influence the decisions you make about your personal and professional life.

The conversations you have, the topics you discuss, and the feedback you get are all driven by the type of people you have surrounded yourself with.

Your circle determines the conversations

So, for example, if you have people around you who are struggling financially, you probably won’t pick up tips and tricks from them that will help you thrive. 

It’s a lot like sports. If you play tennis, for example, your performance will improve or weaken depending on your opponent. Want to improve? Play against people who are better than you are. Because if you only play against people you know you can beat, your skills will atrophy. You’ll get worse, not better.

There’s no judgment here—we ALL encounter financial struggles from time to time. But if all of your friends and colleagues are only getting by, then you probably aren’t having positive conversations about money with them that can boost your wealth. Conversations such as which stocks are doing really well, what types of real estate investments could make the most sense given your financial goals, new side hustles to explore, and when everyone is aiming to retire. If no one around you is brainstorming how to make a million, it may be harder for you to change your money mindset.

This is not to say you should walk away from those friends. Not at all. Close friends are important. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make new friends.

Cultivate relationships with people you look up to

Consider adding new people to your circle of friends and associates who are living a life you aspire to have. Ideally, they are entrepreneurs or business owners who are working on growing their companies.

By growing closer to people who are role models for some aspect of your life, you enhance your ability to improve that area of your life. For example, if you aspire to be in a satisfying personal relationship, surrounding yourself with people who have managed to do that will help you figure out how to attract and find someone who is a good partner for you. 

Likewise, if you surround yourself with people who are committed to remaining single and have only negative things to say about potential partners, you will naturally repel someone who could be good for you, even if it’s unintentional.

To find people to look up to, you may need to change the events you attend or the activities you engage in. 

Finding a mastermind of people in your industry or who are striving to hit $1 million in sales, for example, could be one way to learn new business development strategies or to forge new business relationships. Groups like Toastmasters can be good for improving your public speaking skills. Networking organizations like BNI can connect you with other business people looking to trade business leads. Your local Chamber of Commerce can provide chances for you to mix and mingle with local business owners. And Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs are where local community leaders frequently gather.

But there’s no need to limit yourself to local, in-person networking.

If your business is national or global, rather than local, then find groups of like-minded entrepreneurs online. There are thousands of Facebook and LinkedIn groups where you can connect with people on a similar journey who are in other parts of the country or world. Not to mention industry and professional organizations with online discussion forums in which you can participate.

There are many places for you to turn, both in person and online, to connect with like-minded, ambitious people who can be good for you and your business.

Become a follower

Not all relationships need to be up close and personal, too. You may want to become BFFs with your industry’s leading influencer but that doesn’t mean they have time to get to know you. That’s okay.

Do all you can to consume information that they’re sharing about their work life. Do they have a podcast? Have they written any books? Are there any interviews they’ve done that you can read or listen to? Do they have a blog?

There are many possible ways you can enter their orbit (meaning be influenced by them) without being physically near them.

But if you start following them online, you may eventually learn that they’ll be speaking at a conference you can attend, or participating in a workshop you could travel to.

Surrounding yourself with people who are farther ahead in their business growth can help pull you forward just by watching and listening to how they make decisions. Following in their footsteps is easier when you get together with them regularly to hear what challenges and successes they’re having. 

As you spend more time with people who have been business owners longer than you have, whose companies are generating more revenue than yours, and whose net worth is higher than yours, the faster your business and wealth will also grow. Because the average of the five people you spend the most time with will have improved.

Planning for the Most Productive Q4 You’ve Ever Had in Business

Sunday, September 17th, 2023

You’ve probably heard that there are two times of the year when people typically stop to plan out the next few months. 

The most common time for reflection and planning is at New Year’s, because you have the whole year looming large in front of you. The second most popular time is around Labor Day. The end of summer and start of the new school year here in the U.S. is a natural time for people to stop and take stock of their year and to think ahead about how to wrap up all those projects they had on their to-do list for this year.

This is especially smart for business owners, so you can make the most of the opportunities that emerge in the fourth quarter.

How are things going?

Before you plot or adjust your business strategy for October through December, it’s always a good idea to reflect on what has gone well so far this year. 

What have you accomplished that you had planned to, such as attracting a certain number of social media followers, hitting a revenue target, hiring key employees, and/or rolling out new products or services? Pat yourself on the back for those successes.

Then take a look at what’s still on your annual plan that you haven’t completed. Have you not accomplished them because you haven’t initiated them, such as a marketing campaign, or are they not done because your plan didn’t succeed? What didn’t go as you had expected?

Knowing what’s working and what’s not is key to finishing the year strong. Keep doing what’s going well and try a new approach to what hasn’t worked. That might mean delegating tasks you haven’t gotten to, redesigning your approach to your goal, or replacing a task with something that has a better chance of achieving your ultimate objective, among other things.

Unless you’ve checked off every goal you set at the start of the year, now is not the time to introduce a slew of new goals, however. Focus is key. Don’t get distracted. Pull up the goals that you had determined were essential for your company’s success this year and brainstorm how best to reach them in the next 100 days left in the year.

Product-based businesses: gear up for the holiday season

Retailers and manufacturers that rely on Black Friday for a sales bump should already be prepared. Labor Day is frequently the deadline by which inventory needs to be ordered or raw materials procured and in-house. If you run a product-based business, your focus should be on marketing.

It’s time to attract more buyers to your business when they’re in prime buying mode for the holidays. Whether you sell home goods, wine and liquor, toys, or clothing, you need to start priming the pump, so to speak. Meaning, start promotional campaigns that will draw customers to your place of business or website. Give them reasons to come shop with you.

Service-based businesses also have an opportunity to boost sales during the last quarter. Furniture restoration companies do well this time of year as people try to spruce up their homes before holiday gatherings. Caterers may want to identify freelance helpers for holiday parties, and holiday lighting companies should be advertising hard to sign homeowners who want help this year brightening their homes and yards.

You don’t have to be like Home Depot and start featuring Christmas trees in your retail space, but you can remind customers and prospects that they should start planning now for their holiday activities. That way they can be sure they can get the products and services they want in November and December.

Strategize your marketing activities

If sales in the fourth quarter typically have a big impact on your business’s bottom line, you’ll want to ensure your marketing is sufficient to bring prospects in. What advertising, promotion, social media, events, and other activities do you have planned? 

Given the results of your mini-assessment of the first ¾ of the year, do you need to invest more in marketing to finish the year strong? Are you in need of new tactics because your old ones aren’t working as well?

Or is your business busiest during the warmer months? If so, you may want to taper your promotions a bit for now and allocate more of your marketing money to be spent during the second quarter of next year.

One way to know when it makes the most sense to get in front of prospects is to look at sales reports from previous years. When did most of your sales come in? Then design an advertising and promotional program to make sure customers are thinking about you right before they have a need. 

For example, if you sell a product that sells a massive amount around Mother’s Day, such as custom jewelry, you know that your prime time to promote likely begins in the spring and not so much in October. Plan your marketing to connect with prospects as they’re starting to think about Mother’s Day.

Order client appreciation gifts

Everyone enjoys receiving gifts and thank-you notes; your customers are no different.

Depending on what you sell, start thinking about and planning what you could give customers to show you value their business. It could be a little bonus at checkout, such as a small bottle of festive nail polish for each nail salon client or a free dessert at your restaurant. Lawncare customers could receive a small plant to brighten their homes or offices during the colder months. Executive and personal coaches could give out custom planners to their clients, or a code to download a free app that will enhance and support the coaching they’re receiving.

Presents don’t have to be expensive, but most customers appreciate a token of your thanks.

The key is to plan ahead and place any orders now so that you have your gifts in hand and ready to go by Thanksgiving. Or you can place orders with companies and have deliveries planned for later in the year, so you don’t have to think about it.

Break down what you need to do between now and December 31 by planning backward from the last day you’ll be open this year. Plot week by week what you need to accomplish to hit your sales target and complete those all-important tasks before the New Year. Creating a weekly to-do list will help you stay on top of all the hustle and bustle that usually accompanies this time of year and still help you achieve your annual goals.

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