Archive for the ‘ Blog’ Category

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.

What You Need to Know Before Hiring a Coach

Friday, June 17th, 2022

Depending on who you ask, the size of the coaching industry in 2022 is worth anywhere from $2.85 billion to $22 billion. Of course, that number includes all the various coaching niches, from executive coaching to life coaching to career coaching, and more. The field continues to grow as a result of people realizing the value that a coach can provide, whether that involves mapping out a career, making important life decisions, or deciding how to best grow a business, just to name a few.

Coaches can help with any and all of those challenges, as well as many other life decisions.

Coach Megan Shekleton, founder of Wider Visions, a personal development and membership platform, offers help in distinguishing between coaches, therapists, and mentors in this video for WomensNet.

She says that all three provide “important avenues for growth and healing but differ in their approach and focus.”

Which Do You Need?

Before you decide to get help from any of these three types of advisors, make sure you know which will be the most helpful for your particular situation.

  • Coaching. “Coaching is future-oriented,” Shekleton explains. A coach can help you define and craft a vision for your future, setting goals and identifying shifts you want to make. Then they can help you create a plan to achieve those goals. A coach “is about maximizing your potential,” she says.
  • Therapy. “Therapy focuses on your past to understand how it is impacting your present,” says Shekleton. A therapist is most useful for working through your past traumas, to clear away any mental roadblocks or issues you are currently having. It’s about finding a new path forward after dealing with and processing past life events and experiences.
  • Mentorship. And mentors are consultants who specialize in a certain skill. Working with a mentor can be most useful when you are trying to skill-build, such as polishing your presentation or negotiation capabilities. Mentors help you strengthen your existing skills or add to your knowledge in preparation for new experiences you’d like to have.

Are You Really Ready?

Because there is overlap across the three types of advisors, Shekleton recommends before engaging that you ask yourself:

  • Am I looking to make a big shift connected to a vision or goal?
  • Do I need a coach, a mentor, or a therapist?
  • Am I all in? Am I willing to commit?

Potential Reasons You Could Use One

Entrepreneurs may decide that a business coach who can help them develop a more effective marketing or sales strategy is what they and their company really need now. That might involve talking through where you are, where you want to be, and then mapping out a process and a plan to get you there, with your coach giving you tough love when needed to keep you progressing.

Other entrepreneurs may realize that the blocks they are encountering in their business are the result of an early experience with money, perhaps, or a previous partnership that went bust. Before venturing forward again, they may decide that it’s important to heal from those bad experiences and learn how to proceed with a more positive mindset with the help of a therapist.

Some entrepreneurs recognize that they’ve set effective business goals, but they lack certain skills required to achieve them. Maybe they need to figure out how to cold call, or to write RFP responses for government bids, to raise their rates, or to present in public comfortably. A mentor can guide and instruct them to hone those specific abilities.

To Protect Yourself

Asking for help is always smart! But be sure you’re turning to someone who is qualified to guide you. No one wants to spend money for advice that is useless, after all.

Shekleton points out that coaching is an unregulated field, which means that almost anyone can call themselves a coach and start charging people money for their opinion. To increase the odds that that opinion will be worth what you pay for it, she advises that you work with a certified coach, who is someone who has been formally trained as a coach and who has agreed to abide by the industry’s code of ethics.

Whether you’re looking for short-term answers or a long-term plan, paying for the services of a professional coach, therapist, or mentor may be just what you need to make progress in your business.

Check Out the New WomensNet Resource Center

Saturday, May 28th, 2022

As part of its new alliance with Freelancing Females, WomensNet has launched a Resource Center with useful videos on a range of topics women business owners frequently ask questions about.

The educational video series addresses:

  • Business bookkeeping and accounting for beginners
  • Choosing the best website platform for your needs
  • Coaching and capacity building
  • How to incorporate your business simply
  • Influencer marketing
  • Pay-per-click: Facebook vs. LinkedIn vs. Google
  • Search engine optimization—DIY guide
  • Social media presence and social media marketing
  • Trademarks and patents
  • WMBE certification

The videos were all recorded by members of the Freelancing Females community.

If you have expertise to share on any of these topics, to supplement what is already there (versus creating a new topic area), please get in touch with us at info@womensnet.net.

WomensNet was one of the very first online organizations to give women-owned businesses grants. Starting in 1998, the Amber Grant was created to honor the memory of Amber Wigdahl, who was a special young woman who died at just 19 years old, before realizing her business dreams.

Today, we carry on that tradition by giving away a $10,000 Amber Grant every month, plus an additional $25,000 Amber Grant to one of the preceding 12 monthly Amber Grant winners.

Success as a Solopreneur

Thursday, May 12th, 2022

Where solopreneurship, or operating as a one-person company, used to be perceived as a starting point to entrepreneurship, today many start-ups are opting to remain as solo ventures.

Approximately 73% of U.S. small businesses are categorized as solopreneurships, reports Podia, which equates to 41.8 million companies. Rather than being merely a stepping stone, for many entrepreneurs solopreneur is now frequently a preferred destination. 

Research by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2020/2021 Global report found that “the rate of US adults expecting to remain as the only employee in their business was up by nearly 20 percent from 2020.” Further, “A strong characteristic of Covid-19 era entrepreneurship is that is appears to be accelerating the rate of single-employee companies…a trend that started a few years earlier.”

Said another way, more people are starting one-person businesses and opting to keep them as such.

Pros and Cons of Being a Solopreneur

Starting a solo venture is a big step, whether you intend to eventually expand it or not. As with everything, there are advantages and disadvantages of remaining a solopreneur:

Pros

  • Ease of start-up. Getting a one-person venture up-and-running is much easier and potentially faster than having to take into account the preferences of partners or investors. 
  • Low cost. When you’re only responsible for yourself and the equipment and materials you need to run the business, you can typically keep expenses low. Once you begin to add staff, costs can rise exponentially.
  • Speed. When you’re the lone decision-maker, you can make choices quickly and make progress faster.
  • Control. Similarly, when you own 100% of the company, what you say goes. No checking with anyone else about their opinions.

Cons

  • Limited capacity. Although you can keep costs low when you’re the lone employee, when you’re the CEO/janitor/delivery person/production supervisor, your capacity can be limited. There are only so many hours in a day for you to work.
  • Less room to scale. A result of limited capacity is that it’s more difficult to scale a solo business without converting it into a larger venture.
  • Stress. When you’re the person responsible for everything in the business, that can cause stress and anxiety. Being in charge isn’t always good news.

For an increasing number of Americans, running a solopreneurship makes a lot of sense. Often called “lifestyle” businesses because the companies are built around the owner’s skills, abilities, and interests, one-person businesses can still be both lucrative and successful.

Here’s how to make solopreneurship work for you:

Focus on Growth, but Not Expansion

While outsiders may see your one-worker venture as limiting, don’t let that discourage you. There is plenty of growth possible through non-traditional strategies.

  • Rely on contractors and freelancers. You will eventually need support if you plan to grow your business, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hire permanent employees. Retain your flexibility by relying on workers as-needed—a.k.a. freelancers—as well as consultants and coaches. That way, you can ramp up the business without incurring hefty fixed costs.
  • Allow remote work. The majority of solopreneurs work from a home office, which is great for keeping the cost of rented space to a minimum. If you decide to pay for expertise, such as a bookkeeper, scheduler, or web designer, permit them to operate from their homes, thereby eliminating the need for commercial space.
  • Partner with sales reps. If you produce a product, consider working with manufacturer’s representatives rather than hiring your own sales crew. They earn a commission with each sale, which reduces your company’s costs; in many cases, you don’t produce until you get an order.
  • Invest in marketing. Although many solopreneurs opt to keep the business small and manageable, often relying mainly on word of mouth, that doesn’t mean you should keep your business a secret. Getting the word out, even if you’re working part-time, can increase demand and allow you to raise your rates, even if you limit supply.

As Elaine Pofeldt states in her book, The Million-Dollar One-Person Business, “the vast majority of self-employed people have barely begun to unlock their potential in making the most of their businesses.”

How to Win Back Lost Customers

Sunday, April 24th, 2022

Most businesses focus the bulk of their marketing efforts on attracting new customers, when their resources would be better spent on trying to win back previous customers. That’s because you actually have a better chance of winning back a lost customer than you do of converting a new prospect. 

Research by Marketing Metrics found your odds of converting a prospect to a customer are 5-20%, while the odds of convincing a former customer to buy from you again are 20-40%. And, of those customers who are wooed back, their customer lifetime value doubles. That is, they can become among your most profitable buyers.

In many cases, the reason the customer stopped buying from you in the first place are factors you, as the business owner, can control and correct. Some of the biggest reasons customers become former customers are rude staff members, an unresolved problem, and uninformed staff members, says customer service strategist Adam Toporek

The good news is that all of those reasons can be addressed and corrected. That is, you have control, and you can turn things around.

So, how do you go about convincing customers to give your business another shot?

Ask why they left

Of course, the first step in winning back lost customers is finding out what drove them away. Unless you’ve been conducting regular market research, or have already inquired, it’s time to explore why customers are not returning.

You can do that in a number of ways, depending upon whether you have their contact information:

  • Pick up the phone and call or text them
  • Email them
  • Send out a survey by mail
  • Email out a survey link (SurveyMonkey is cheap and easy to use)
  • Conduct a poll on Facebook of local residents

You may hear that there was, in fact, a problem, such as that you never had their favorite product in stock, or your turnaround time was too slow. And you may also hear that your customers’ needs changed, such as if they bought a new car and didn’t need your dealership’s services, or decided to become a Silver Sister and gave up hair color. Ask around to see if there is anything you can do.

Give them a reason to come back

Even if you don’t know exactly why they haven’t bought from you lately, you can still send out an incentive of some kind to invite them back. There are a number of potential approaches, including:

  • Advertising an open house event to get people to stop by
  • Offering a discount or special promotion to the general public
  • Sending out direct mail coupons or offers to people on your mailing list
  • Emailing a special offer to your customer base

What, exactly, you offer is up to you, but make it substantial enough to be enticing to almost everyone. For example, if you own a restaurant, how about a buy-one-get-one-free meal deal? If you’re a consultant, how about a free 30-minute consultation?

Pursue publicity

Perhaps the reason some customers haven’t returned is that they simply haven’t thought about your business. If their need is only occasional, such as with website redesigns, interior painting projects, or professional photography, you may not be top-of-mind.

The solution, of course, is to change that. The most cost-effective way to raise your company’s visibility is through publicity. Some of the best ways to do this are:

  • To scour national publicity opportunities to see where you might be a source (Helpareporter and Qwoted are two free platforms)
  • To reach out to a local newspaper reporter with positive news about your company
  • To send out a tip sheet related to your business to relevant media
  • To offer to write an article for your local newspaper or magazine on a topic related to your business, but not about it

You can also hire a local public relations firm to help identify opportunities to get your company’s name in front of your target market.

Invest in a customer database

Once you’ve reconnected with past customers, even if they don’t buy from you again immediately, keep better track of your interactions and their purchases by leveraging technology. 

A simple customer relationship management (CRM) system can help you identify your best customers, as well as those who haven’t been in recently. That kind of information can help you proactively reach out and reconnect before a customer fades into the distance and onto another provider.

The fact is, if a customer had a need for your product or service at one point in the recent past, odds are good they still have that need. Your challenge is to convince them to let you try to meet their needs once again. If you’re successful, those customers are likely to become your most profitable and most loyal.

Time is Money: Here’s How to Find More

Tuesday, April 12th, 2022

Many entrepreneurs often waste time. Of course, it’s not intentional, but they spend time they shouldn’t on tasks that don’t require their direct involvement. Reducing that wasted time is the key to getting more done in less time.

By focusing on maximizing productivity, by managing your time better, your business has the potential to become more profitable. Here are some tips and tools that you can use in your daily work to optimize the use of your time.

Plan your day

Making a daily and/or weekly calendar to plan out what you need to get done on a daily basis is the most important step in managing your time. Either at the start of your day, or the evening before, spend a few minutes writing down the top three tasks you absolutely must complete that day. Those essential tasks should then guide how you schedule the rest of your day.

However, you should also build in breaks and rewards. Try to create a day where you can both be productive and feel good about what you’ve accomplished. For example, if you have a big project to complete by the end of the day, don’t just put that one item on your calendar for the whole time. That can either seem overwhelming or too easy, and if that’s the case, it’s very likely you’ll add in other smaller tasks due to overconfidence about your availability.

Figure out what your three must-do’s are and slot them into your day first, to ensure the most important tasks get done. Then, when you do, reward yourself with a walk outside, a fresh cup of coffee, or a social media break.

Rely on technology

Typically, many of the tasks that you complete in a day are handled manually. That is, without the use of technology. However, there is an opportunity to use technology tools that will get those tasks done faster, and maybe even better.

A great example of this is recording and then transcribing your interviews. If you are currently manually transcribing your interviews—stop! That is not a task you should be completing. Transcribing is a time and energy-exhausting task that can make it harder for you to get other tasks done. Not to mention, there are online services that will do it for you.

Otter, Rev, and Speechpad are all good options for having transcripts done, though some are more expensive than others.

Also, using Google Workspace or other browser-based platforms make working on collaborative documents a breeze. Google Docs is a great example of this. Instead of uploading every little change you make to a document, share the document with team members and work on it together.

Focus on high-value tasks

Since we know (thanks to Pareto) that 20 percent of your work will yield 80 percent of your results, make sure you take the time to identify which of your tasks are going to generate the most value for your business. Frequently, we use smaller tasks as excuses to procrastinate and avoid the larger to-do’s we actually don’t want to do.

While this strategy is helpful in avoiding your work, it doesn’t do your business any good. Let the smaller things wait and focus on what really matters. For example, a high value task for a copywriter might be drafting an article, for a product distributor it might be negotiating a contract, and for a caterer, it might be helping clients choose a menu for their big event.

What is considered a high value task will be different for everyone, but being clear about which yours are can help you focus your time and energy on the activities that have the biggest payoff for your company.

Delegate or outsource business activities that don’t require your expertise

Similar to focusing on high value tasks, don’t waste your time on a task that someone else could just as easily handle. You’re adding no value in that case and preventing yourself from addressing some other, more important, task.

For example, if your area of expertise is business management, don’t spend your time crunching numbers or designing websites. Similarly, if you’re not a graphic designer, don’t waste your time trying to replicate what a skilled graphic designer could create for you. Your brochure, logo, or flyer will be much more professional and done in less time than if you tried to cobble something together.

Instead, do what you excel at and hand off the other work to people who excel in those other categories.

Don’t drive, get it delivered

Entrepreneurs and business owners who started small are used to doing it all themselves, from landing the business to doing the work to billing, and everything in between. Sometimes, that work includes administrative tasks like ordering coffee, dropping off packages at the post office, or running out to buy a toner cartridge because the printer ran out of ink.

However, thanks to Covid, we now know that it’s possible to get almost anything delivered to your door. Why get in your car and drive, or take the subway, to run time-consuming errands when all you need to do is head online to make arrangements for what you need?

Have packages to go out to clients? Schedule a pick-up at your business. Need office supplies? Place an online order at Staples or Amazon and have it delivered. Ordering sandwiches for a working lunch? Use Grubhub or DoorDash and have it made-to-order and brought to you, rather than spending your valuable time leaving your office to pick things up. Convert that time to productive work time.

Running a business is hard, but by making better use of your resources and your time, you can increase your odds of massive success. The more you make use of available people, technology, and resources in running your business, the more time you will save and the more money you will make.

Simple Steps to Protect Your Business from Cybercrime

Thursday, March 24th, 2022

Reports of cyberattacks are increasing in frequency, with small businesses becoming bigger targets because they typically have not invested in security technology to the degree that larger corporations have. Many also lack internal policies and procedures designed to thwart access to sensitive data. The FBI’s 2020 Internet Crime Report found that the cost of cybercrimes hit $4.2 billion in 2020 and were up 38% from 2019.

A recent Small Business Administration (SBA) survey found that 88% of small business owners believed their business might be vulnerable.

So, what can you do if your budget doesn’t have a line item for pricey IT security solutions?

Understand Your Threats

The first step is to understand that cybercrime consists of several different types of online attacks, each of which requires different strategies to prevent malicious activity. Most cybercrimes fall into three broad categories:

  • Phishing. Perhaps the most common type of attack involves emails that look like they are coming from a legitimate organization or individual, and ask you to take some action that will then give them access to your computer or to financial accounts. They can also infect your computer with viruses.
  • Ransomware. This type of malware, or malicious software, infects your computer and then restricts access to the computer or to files until a ransom is paid. It usually gets into your computer through phishing emails.
  • Viruses. Another type of malware involves infecting your computer with software that often gives hackers access to your computer. Other times viruses tamper or modify data on your computer. Once in, viruses can control what your computer can do, including steal sensitive information.

The common element in all cyberattacks is gaining access to your computer system, usually through email. That means that your best defense against getting hacked is by setting up protection systems and training employees in how to spot phishing attempts.

Stopping Cybercrime

Although it’s very difficult to outsmart sophisticated cybercriminals, there are some basic steps you can take to reduce the chance that a hacker can get access to your computer systems. These include:

  • Installing computer security systems

Just as your home and office likely have some kind of exterior security system, even if it’s a locked door, you can purchase protection for your computers. This layer of security, called a firewall, is a software program that prevents outsiders from getting into your system. Installing antivirus is another must-do, to keep malware from activating on your computers.

  • Using secure wifi networks

With so many companies and individuals relying on wifi networks to stay connected and get work done, it’s essential that your business use a password-protected router and an encrypted, hidden wifi network. It’s harder for hackers to gain access to a network if they can’t easily find it.

  • Keeping software up-to-date

Sometimes older versions of programs have vulnerabilities that can unintentionally allow access to your system. As soon as software developers discover these access points, they fix them—called a “patch” —and provide them through updates sent to customers. Making sure that you’re always running the latest software version on your computers is one way to reduce the chance that a hacker can get in.

  • Requiring strong passwords

Provide employees with guidance or training in setting up more complex passwords and then require that they update those passwords regularly, at least every 60 to 90 days. You might also consider implementing multi-factor authentication, to make it even more difficult for a hacker to gain access.

  • Performing data backups, backups, backups

Make sure all the computers on your network, and any off-site devices, are being backed up regularly. Store copies of important files or paperwork in the cloud, off-site, or both. If your computer is hacked, you’ll want to be able to clean off any viruses and then reload all of your programs and data. That’s only possible if you have a clean copy somewhere else.

  • Training employees to recognize phishing attempts

Since the majority of cyberattacks begin as phishing attempts targeting employees (KnowBe4 claims the percentage is as high as 91%), to reduce the chance that hackers have to break into your system, you need to train employees in how to recognize phishing attempts. Security training can increase awareness and help prevent data breaches. KnowBe4 has a phishing test you can share with employees to see how vigilant they naturally are. 

Although little can be done to prevent cyberattacks themselves, taking these steps to prevent access to your computing network and the sensitive information stored there will help reduce the chance of harm done.

Grow Your Business with Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Saturday, March 12th, 2022

Fifty percent of Americans would choose word-of-mouth, meaning recommendations from family and friends, if they had to choose one source of information regarding a potential purchase. That’s the power of word-of-mouth marketing, which is based on trust and credibility. In fact, 41% of Americans trust word-of-mouth recommendations over social media suggestions. Yet, surprisingly, only 33% of online businesses use word-of-mouth marketing. 

So how can you grow your business through word-of-mouth? By taking steps to exceed your customers’ expectations on all fronts. 

3 Steps to Encouraging Word-of-Mouth

Although word-of-mouth is hard to control, you can certainly increase the odds of generating positive recommendations by doing the following:

1.Focus on superior customer service

Word-of-mouth marketing involves getting people to talk about your business, and the very best way to encourage positive word-of-mouth is by blowing them away in terms of the quality of the overall experience of doing business with you. That means providing an aesthetically pleasing environment, whether you’re in an office that provides tax accounting services or a nail salon. Try to take your customers’ breath away as soon as they step into your business space, through how it looks, feels, and smells.

After making a great first impression, provide excellent service. That includes exceeding expectations on all fronts. If you’re a housecleaner, you might do a top-quality job of actually cleaning and disinfecting, and then also leave behind a batch of homemade cookies for customers. If you run a restaurant, maybe you make a point of learning your customers’ names after their very first visit, so you can greet them when they return and immediately serve their preferred beverage. Or if you’re a freelance writer, in addition to delivering the article you were assigned on time, maybe you also deliver some suggested Twitter or Instagram copy for your customer to use in conjunction with the article.

And if there is a problem at some point, correct it quickly and go overboard in making it right for your customer. For example, if someone buys a product at your retail shop and it breaks on the first washing, don’t just offer to replace it—replace it for free and then offer a credit on a future purchase. By going above-and-beyond, you’ll give your customer a reason to rave about the terrific service they received at your store, rather than ranting about their disappointment. The more you do to please them, the higher your chances of eliciting a positive response and recommendation.

Delighting your customers is an essential first step. Because if your clients are happy with what you’ve done for them, they are much more likely to want to tell all their friends and neighbors about what it was like to do business with you.

That’s positive word-of-mouth in action.

2.Ask for positive reviews

Although generating positive chatter about your business may be foremost in your mind, it is probably not in your customers’. Many people want to be supportive of businesses they like, but may need prompting, or instruction, regarding how, exactly, they can do that.

So, tell them.

Request that they:

  • Write a positive Yelp review
  • Write a positive Google review
  • Respond with a positive recommendation when people ask for them on NextDoor
  • Share a photo and review on Instagram
  • Comment online when others ask for recommendations or opinions
  • Mention it to friends who are looking for guidance on Facebook
  • Give a five-star rating on Amazon or whatever platform you sell on
  • Offer a testimonial you can use in your marketing materials, or online

Let them know that in addition to their continued patronage, telling their network about your company is nearly as valuable.

  1. Build a community

Since 71% of consumers tend to buy based on social media referrals, bringing people together in an online community can encourage them to buy more from you. The good news is that setting up a free Facebook group is easy, and creates a way for your fans to connect.

Inviting customers and prospects to join your free community provides an effective way to engage with them. You can share information about the business, announce new policies, new products and services, new employees, as well as good news and customer stories.

Within your group, you can provide tips for the best ways to use your product, when your service might be most needed, or how to care for purchases. You can ask for feedback on new product ideas, branding designs, or upcoming events. You can also host online presentations or webinars, sponsor contests and giveaways, and spark discussions that would be of interest to your tribe. The more frequently they return to your group for content, the more positively they’ll feel about your company. That’s the value of word-of-mouth.

And because word-of-mouth is 10 times as effective as traditional advertising, says Professor Jonah Berber, author of the bestseller Contagious, you might consider reallocating some of your marketing budget to improve and enhance your customers’ experience of doing business with you.

6 No-Cost Ways to Support Other Women Business Owners

Thursday, February 24th, 2022

The number of woman-owned businesses continues to rise, reports the US Census Bureau, and those with employees account for nearly 20% of all US businesses. When you add in women solopreneurs, that percentage rises to 42% of all businesses in the country. And women of color own half of all woman-owned companies.

The rise of woman-owned businesses is good news for everyone, really. Entrepreneurial ventures allow women to earn a living engaged in an activity they are passionate about, or particularly skilled in. 

The key to future growth for women business owners is increasing support for their companies and their work. Instead of making a purchase on Amazon or Walmart, for example, how about seeking out a smaller, woman-owned firm selling similar goods and services. You can buy through their business website or on a platform like Etsy or Fiverr, just to name a couple.

But support doesn’t have to mean spending money. 

Sometimes, support that doesn’t cost a dime can ultimately lead to bigger and better opportunities for women business owners.

How about trying some of the following tactics to show your support for female entrepreneurs:

1. Celebrate their successes

When you see a fellow woman business owner achieving their goals, whatever they are, show your support by giving them a pat on the back, publicly. Give them a shout-out on Facebook, share a celebratory note on IG and tag them, and mention their recent win on LinkedIn.

Spread the word. In many cases, those mentions and virtual high-fives can lead to connections that are worth far more than a single purchase you could make.

2. Make referrals

After you have a good experience doing business with a woman business owner, tell all your friends. Spread the word that your bookkeeper makes your life so much easier, that your lawyer is helping you protect your assets, or that the café on the corner has the BEST doughnuts. And drop names, and maybe even addresses.

Or when a colleague or friend asks who you use for trash pickup, or snowplowing, or tax accounting, try to recommend a woman business owner you know and respect. Those types of referrals are worth their weight in gold.

3. Leave positive reviews

Along the same lines, when you have a positive experience, go online and tell everyone about your recent purchase experience. Rave loudly!

Yelp is best-known for restaurants, but you can review local businesses there, too. You can also leave Google reviews and LinkedIn recommendations just as easily. If the company sells a product, you may be able to leave a customer review on their website, or on the platform where the product is sold.

4. Share their posts

When you see a woman business owner sharing news or an article or photo on social media, share the post with your network, if it’s relevant. This helps raise the visibility of the entrepreneur and their business.

Or, if the post isn’t really appropriate for your crowd (maybe it’s about a business 500 miles away, or topic you’re not sure your followers would be interested in), comment on the post. Comments help post performance and can help ensure others will see it. So, add a couple of words of encouragement, or type up your positive thoughts on the topic.

5. Make introductions

One way to help expand women business owners’ network is to bring them into your own circle of friends and colleagues. Introduce them to other women business owners they should know.

You can do that simply through email, through a Zoom chat, or by inviting them both to a business networking event. “I want you to meet…” is a great conversation starter.

6. Mentor aspiring and current women business owners

When you’re just starting out in business, it can feel overwhelming. You don’t know what you don’t know, and that’s scary. Imagine how comforting it would be to meet another woman business owner willing to help you avoid common problems and expensive missteps.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

If you’ve had a few years of experience running your own business, how about looking for opportunities to help other women business owners who aren’t yet where you are. You’re likely to find them within trade and professional organizations you belong to, or local associations and civic organizations. The Chamber of Commerce may be a good starting point, or a networking group like BNI.

No matter what you do, if you keep your support positive and encouraging, you can help women business owners thrive and succeed. 

Grow Your Influence with Public Speaking

Thursday, February 10th, 2022

Public speaking is one of the most effective and least expensive marketing tools available. If you have more time than money right now to grow your business, think about doing some public speaking.

As the person in the front of the room sharing information, you’re the de facto authority on your topic. You’re the expert. This positioning can help raise your visibility and credibility as a businessperson.

That’s true whether you’re speaking to a high school classroom, where students may go home and tell their parents about you; to undergrad or graduate students; to members of a civic organization like Rotary or Kiwanis; to employees of a corporation or nonprofit; to colleagues and peers in an industry organization; or to attendees at a trade show.

The more you speak to groups, the faster your name and brand will spread, through word-of-mouth. Even if they don’t know exactly what you do, people will begin to recognize your name, or the type of business you run. You may start to receive referrals or recommendations from people who have sat in your audiences.

By speaking to multiple people at once, public speaking is also a very efficient marketing method. Instead of meeting one-on-one with prospects, you can educate and inform an audience of many, without having to convince them of your knowledge and expertise. After all, an organization asked you to speak to their employees, members, students, or industry professionals. That means, you probably know more than everyone else in the room.

Learning the Art of Public Speaking

If you like the idea of being perceived as an expert, but aren’t thrilled about the prospect of standing up to speak to a group, there are ways to learn the art of public speaking and get chances to practice.

Toastmasters is a terrific resource for people who want to get better at any kind of public speaking. The organization’s mission is to build public speaking and leadership skills. There are local Toastmasters groups that meet regularly, to help their members get practice and receive regular feedback to help them improve.

Dale Carnegie and other training organizations offer public speaking classes, where you can learn basic do’s and don’ts and have the chance to practice in front of people. Your local community center or community college may also offer public speaking courses. The more you can get in front of people and get feedback on your performance, the faster you’ll improve and get comfortable with your role as a speaker.

LinkedIn has an online course (which is free), to help develop public speaking skills, as do paid platforms like Udemy and MasterClass.

If you’re already confident of your speaking skills and are ready to explore where you might get in front of an audience, here are some strategies for connecting with people in a position to ask you to speak.

Craft a List of Potential Talk Topics

Once you’re confident in your ability to entertain and educate an audience, you’ll want to prepare a speaker one sheet, or speaker sheet, which contains information about you, your qualifications and experience, and the topics you’re qualified to speak on.

That’s your speaker marketing tool, so you’ll want to put some time into polishing it.

Thinking about topics you could speak on that would also position you as an expert and help promote your company is an important step in this process. Sure, you might be able to talk for an hour about quilting or ADHD or extreme couponing, but if your business provides personal training services, you’re not helping to promote your company if you talk about those other interests. Your target audience is likely more interested in learning from you about good stretching exercises, the best in-home gym equipment to buy, or training for a 5k run in 30 days.

Brainstorm topics that will present your business in a positive light, give you a chance to demonstrate your expertise, and be of interest to your target customer.

Finding Speaking Opportunities

Before you start looking for opportunities to speak, which can quickly eat up a lot of your time, get clear about your target client or customer. Who is it you want to connect with? 

For example, if you’re a retailer, it might be worth your while to make local residents know more about your store. Speaking to local groups would be a good start. If you’re a pet groomer, finding organizations and groups in your region dedicated to pets and pet owners would be smart. If you manufacture a product, connecting with potential wholesalers or retailers might be your approach. And if you’re a management consultant or coach, finding groups that bring together professionals potentially in need of your services would be your best bet.

Think about who is most likely to buy from you or hire you, and then look for events, groups, and conferences where you can get in front of them.

Add a speaker/speaking tab to your company website. When you decide that you want to pursue speaking opportunities, let people who visit your website know that you offer speaking services. That’s as easy as converting your speaker sheet into a page on your business site. That way, your name is more likely to come up when event organizers go looking for likely speakers.

Blog regularly. Another way to attract attention to yourself, which can result in speaking offers, blog at least weekly on topics of interest to your customer base. Not only will this improve your Google rank in search, but it will support your new position as industry expert.

Join LinkedIn and Facebook groups for speakers. Get your name out there among people who speak regularly, or hire speakers as part of their jobs. There are many online groups that bring such people together.

Reach out to conference organizers. Conferences that bring together industry participants are always in need of speakers, though sometimes they turn to their membership for candidates first. Or you may need to be an exhibitor to qualify. Find out what the requirements are for being considered at various conferences your target customer might attend, and then submit some proposed topics from your one-sheet.

Register on SpeakerHub. Creating a free speaker profile and receiving “a few free” speaking opportunities in the SpeakerHub Marketplace can quickly elevate your game. However, to be able to scour the free and paid speaking opportunities and be positioned as an expert on the site, you may want to consider paying the annual $260 fee. Whether that makes sense depends on how serious you want to be about public speaking, really.

Join the National Speakers Association. If you decide that you want to make speaking an income stream for your business, look into joining the National Speakers Association, which is the organization for professional speakers.

Because a large percentage of the population view public speaking as scarier than dying, you have an advantage if you’re willing to take the stage, or even just stand at the front of the room. But develop your speaking skills before taking that step, to be sure you’re presenting yourself and your business in the best possible light.

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