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How to Take a Day Off from Work

Friday, September 3rd, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What You Can Do to Improve Cash Flow

Friday, August 20th, 2021

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

And they’re not wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First 9 Things to Do During Startup

Thursday, July 15th, 2021

Starting a new business is both an exciting and a nerve-wracking time. Exciting because of all the possibilities ahead of you and nerve-wracking because of all you don’t yet know. 

The good news is that you can learn as you go. Everyone does, in fact. However, the more you know in advance, the faster success will come.

There are probably 100 or more steps involved in starting and running a new business. That number can also vary by industry and company size. However, there are some universal steps that all entrepreneurs should consider taking. They can get you on the fastest path to success and help you avoid trouble down the line, when you’re up-and-running.

Here are the top nine things just about everyone should do during startup:

Prepare a business plan

Whether you need outside financing or not, taking the time to think through and put on paper a roadmap for your business is critical. Your business plan is a document that contains the details of what you’re selling, who your target customer is, what makes your business better than the competition, what you’ll charge, and how you’ll grow the company. It’s where you can think through where you’re headed and track your progress.

Make it official

Set up your business entity. That means choosing between a sole proprietorship, which is also referred to as a DBA because of the “Doing Business As” paperwork filed for that purpose. With a DBA, you are the business. However, if you choose to set up a limited liability company (LLC), subchapter S corporation, or partnership, those require a separate entity to be established—meaning an organization that is separate from you but which employs you. This option is often chosen for liability protection, though you should consult an attorney before making that choice.

Get a business bank account

Setting up a bank account separate from your personal checking or savings accounts is important for several reasons, not the least of which is being able to fill out your taxes more accurately. It also makes it possible to see whether your business is growing or not. Before you can take this step, however, you need to have your business officially formed, with the paperwork to prove it (the bank will ask).

Check whether you need permits

Depending on the type of business you’ve started, your local town or county may require you to fill out more paperwork. You may need a permit or license to operate your business, for example. Call your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to find out what you need to be legit.

Get insurance

Nearly every business needs to have Workers’ Compensation Insurance in place, but you may also want more than that, such as liability insurance (if you’ll have customers or employees on your premises), business interruption insurance (to cover you if your business has to close suddenly), or general coverage for your property and equipment.

Request an employer identification number (EIN).

An employer identification number (EIN) is a tax identification number and is a smart idea whether you intend to ever have employees or not. Once you have an EIN, you can use it in place of your social security number on things like invoices, loan applications, and other official documentation, which will help prevent identity theft.

Claim your domain name.

Before you design a website, stake your claim to your business domain name. Ideally, you’ll find your business name is still available as a URL with a .com suffix. If it’s already taken, try variations, such as by adding the city or state you operate in. GoDaddy is one of the biggest domain name sellers.

Create a website.

No matter what business you’re in, the majority of potential customers today are likely to head online to Google you before heading over to your store or buying from you online. They may want to find out where you’re located, what your hours are, what products or services you sell, or to straight up shop. You need to give them all that in one place—your website.

Start selling.

Sure, you may not have everything all figured out, but one of the first things you should be doing is selling, selling, selling. That’s the only way you’ll make any money in business. Let people know what you do, who your ideal customer is, who can benefit from your products or services—spread the word far and wide! Don’t put off marketing and promoting your business until everything is perfect, because it won’t ever be. 

Start where you are and keep improving as you go.

Women Business Owners, Do You Need Business Insurance?

Thursday, June 17th, 2021

In a word, yes. You need insurance of some type to keep your company up-and-running long-term. Insurance is a tool to help mitigate some of the risks associated with running a business and having employees, both of which open you up to liability.

“If you have a business and hope to survive, you’ll want to protect against losses like property damage and liability claims against your business, says Fran Majidi of SmartFinancial Insurance. “Otherwise, you may have to pay for losses out of pocket or have no assistance if your business becomes inoperable.” 

Majidi points out that states each have their own specific laws and requirements regarding business insurance that you’ll want to check. However, in most states, workers compensation, unemployment, and disability insurance are required of employers.

Workers’ Comp Insurance

“Workers’ compensation will cover the costs associated with job-related injuries and illnesses,” explains Majidi. “When your employees experience work-related injuries, the company will be spared from paying their medical expenses because the insurance will cover, if not all, most of it,” says Nick Schrader, an insurance agent with Texas General Insurance.

Unemployment Insurance

Employers are often required to carry unemployment insurance, which helps support workers who lose their jobs “for reasons beyond their control,” Majidi says.

Liability Insurance

“It doesn’t matter what type of business you own; liability insurance can protect you from any customer accidents in your store. Liability insurance can help provide coverage from bodily injury or property damage,” explains Jim Pendergast, senior vice president of altLINE Sobanco, a business advisory firm.

Commercial Umbrella Insurance

Another type to consider is commercial umbrella insurance, which “is an added insurance that extends coverage. If you live in a place prone to break-ins or property damage, umbrella insurance is worth its weight in gold,” Pendergast says.

Property Insurance

If your company has a physical presence that employees and/or customers visit, you’ll want to consider liability insurance and property insurance. “You wouldn’t want to throw away your hard-earning money by not making your establishment, tools, and equipment insured,” says Schrader. “Having property insurance ensures that whatever unfortunate events may happen in your establishment, everything will not be wasted because you can file a claim for it.” Meaning, you can be reimbursed for your losses.

Data Breach Insurance

With the exponential rise in computer hackers stealing business data, or holding it hostage, data breach insurance may be something to consider, especially if a large portion of your intellectual property or assets reside online. Pendergast explains that “any costs you must pay when data is stolen can come from data breach insurance.”

Key Man Insurance

Lyle Deitch, an insurance professional and CEO of Parachute360, says, “I always recommend that small business owners have key man insurance….[it] can be invaluable in buying your business, investors and family the time it needs to sort out the business, so that it can continue operations.”

Business Interruption

“Business interruption insurance, or BII, can be bought separately from a BOP policy, but it’ll cost more,” Majidi explains. “BII isn’t just lost income insurance, either. In the event of a covered catastrophe, BII may help pay mortgages and leases, taxes, relocation costs (this is especially important if this determines whether or not a business can get back on track), payroll costs and more.”

Business Owner’s Policy (BOP)

“Most small businesses would do well to purchase a small business owner’s policy (BOP), which combines business property, business liability and business income in one affordable policy,” says Majidi. “With this policy, your business would be covered if there were damages done to the building, equipment, furniture, documents, and all other contents. You’d also be covered if your business operations came to a halt due to a covered catastrophe,” she says.

“Often, the difference between a business that overcomes a disaster and one that shuts down is the right business insurance policy,” says Majidi.

Heather Burns of Hutcheson Reynolds & Caswell Insurance in Ontario, Canada, points out that business insurance can help protect all the assets associated with a business and can help “absorb the financial burden of a loss to their business.”

Big picture, she says, business insurance “is designed to give all business owners peace of mind knowing their investment is protected.”

How Pivoting Your Business Model Can be a Win

Tuesday, May 18th, 2021

More than 4 in 10 women business owners had to pivot their business model to maintain revenue during the pandemic, according to American Express’ Entrepreneurial Spirit Trendex, conducted in 2020. 68 percent expected they would have to again in 2021.

By pivot, we mean fundamentally changing the company’s business model in order to react to market shifts or in response to changing internal dynamics. For some businesses, the pivot was temporary, such as Anheuser-Busch and Diageo, makers of liquors and beers, which switched from making spirits to hand sanitizer as the pandemic surged. Restaurants pivoted to carry out and delivery-only as states shut down in-person dining, and retailers pushed curbside pickup as an option for shoppers to get what they needed quickly, without having to step foot inside the store.

Some businesses pivoted on a dime from one type of business to a completely different one, while others evolved over time. More are still in the process of responding to continued market shifts.

A few of those savvy female business owners who successfully pivoted include:

In-person to virtual workshops. Krista Neher, CEO of Boot Camp Digital, which provides digital marketing training, says that, “prior to the pandemic, most of our business was generated from in-person workshops. We had to quickly pivot to provide virtual workshops instead.”

Although clients initially viewed virtual workshops as “a necessary evil,” Neher says, her team spent months “testing, optimizing, and perfecting our virtual workshops and they now out-score even our in-person trainings!”

Now that “clients have seen that it can be effective,” Neher anticipates that 50 percent of the firm’s revenue will continue to be in virtual training.

Similarly, Laura Sinclair ran a brick-and-mortar gym pre-COVID. However, in November 2020, following the birth of her son, Sinclair quickly transitioned to providing pre- and postnatal coaching—her specialty—online, at Blueprint Fitness.

“We had come to terms with the reality that our gym business would continue to be impacted and the demands of being a new mom and running a brick-and-mortar during COVID would not be realistic for me,” she explains. “To date, I have been able to replace much of the income I’d paid myself from my gym by pivoting my business online.”

Shifting service offerings. Sarah Schaer, founder and CEO of Kango, which provided transportation services for children, says, “When the pandemic hit, the need for Kango’s main services vanished immediately.” Children didn’t need safe rides to school, activities, and appointments during a pandemic lockdown.

Recognizing the need to pivot but unsure initially what that meant, Schaer distributed a survey to customers “to find out how their needs had changed.” She discovered that “the solution was contactless food and grocery delivery, and the introduction of tutoring services for kids struggling to learn in virtual classrooms.”

By expanding her company’s services to provide a wide array of offerings, she tapped into new revenue generating opportunities.

Melissa Tong, founder and CCO of Duck Punk, took a similar tack. Her business pre-COVID was video marketing, with a primary focus on TV commercials for Fortune 500 companies, including Nissan and Verizon, she says. However, when the industry shut down, Tong switched gears away from video, specifically, to storytelling. “Offering storytelling services to companies that want to brand and market through storytelling,” Tong explains.

Already, clients are achieving big wins. “One of my clients quadrupled their sales in just three months,” she says.

From product to service. Nechami Tenenbaum, CEO of Karmela Cosmetics, shifted from selling her high performance, natural lipstick line to providing marketing and image consulting services, “to guide women on actualizing their ideal self-image and up-level their business, for greater business and personal success.”

Instead of relying solely on product sales, Tenenbaum looked at the reason behind those purchases and discovered many clients wanted more guidance regarding their personal image.

Make needed changes. Leslie Polizzotto, co-founder of The Doughnut Project, a handcrafted doughnut shop in NYC, had two locations, 24 employees, and a business partner pre-pandemic. The company was not profitable, she reports. However, since the pandemic, the business partner exited the company, Polizzotto shrunk her employee count down to three, and the business is now profitable.

The difference? Polizzotto is now able to pay her staff well and includes them in creative decisions, sharing financial results regularly. “This has led them to be motivated to help my business excel,” she says. Weekly collaborations with local and national brands as part of the company’s Weekend Specials has also led to lines down the block and “the shop sells out daily,” she reports.

Even as vaccinations increase and hospitalizations continue to decline, it’s possible we may not ever revert to life as it was a couple of years ago. Some market shifts will become permanent, while others may continue to evolve over time. Companies that can be agile and able to respond to those shifting demands will come out on top.

Email Marketing Basics Every Woman Business Owner Should Know

Friday, May 7th, 2021

In a study of 1,000 small business owners, email marketing ranked second as the most effective medium for branding and first for return on investment (ROI), according to a 2019 Campaign Monitor report. And when asked which marketing methods were expected to be relevant in 10 years, email marketing was tops.

We asked women business owners who have had success with email marketing for specific tips for crafting a successful campaign, as well as sharing our own experiences. Here is what we learned:

Understand your target audience. “Taking the time to understand your audience facilitates tailored messaging to each unique persona in your overall target audience,” says Starin Strategies founder and CEO Christene Starin. “Understanding your audience includes identifying their pain points, goals, values, and ultimately, what uniquely resonates with them regarding your services or offerings.” That information should then drive the type of content you share via email.

Craft a compelling subject line. When an email hits your reader’s inbox, they have limited information with which to decide whether to open and read it. The subject line can be a make-or-break factor, so make sure it is short, catchy, and interesting. Don’t try to be so clever that the recipient has no idea what you’re talking about, however.

Include a call-to-action (CTA). “The absolute, most important thing to include in a marketing email is at least one call to action,” says Kate MacDonnell, CMO of Coffee Affection. “A call to action is the point in the email where you are asking the recipient to interact with a hyperlink. It can be a sale for new customers, asking them to sign up for a new subscription, or anything else specific to whatever marketing campaign you’re running,” she says.

Throw in an emoji. MacDonnell also advocates using “one or two well-placed emojis in a subject line of an email.” She has found that “as long as they’re appropriate, emojis are a great eye-catcher and can greatly increase the amount of people who open your emails.”

Use a funnel format for content. “Put the most important points of your email at the top, so that people can quickly see what it’s about. It’s unlikely they will scroll down to find out more if the first few lines don’t interest them,” says Jill Canes, NP, founder and owner of Face Forward Medical Aesthetics.

Keep it short. “Too much content is a big no-no,” says Rachel Renken, content manager for More Naturals. “When it looks too heavy [meaning way too many words on the page], the reader shuts down and moves on to the next email.”

Stick to a schedule. Lindsey Ardmore, founder of Star Tower Systems, recommends “actually sending emails on a dedicated schedule.” Sending out messages whenever the mood strikes you, or on an occasional basis, is not nearly as effective as sending every Thursday, for example. Your fans will come to look forward to it, if you’re consistent with your schedule.

Make sure it’s mobile-friendly. Jeanine Duval, co-founder at Edelwyn, says, “A lot of the people you are emailing will be reading the email on their phone. So make sure that whatever you send is formatted to be readable both on a computer and on a mobile device, as if it requires a lot of effort to read, most people will simply delete your email without reading it.”

Don’t DIY it. Unless you’re technically savvy, it’s likely you’ll save considerable time and money by using an email platform like Mailchimp or Constant Contact. Says Savannah Scott, content and editorial lead at Supergreat, “Platforms like Mailchimp are very user-friendly to make template designs for your company’s newsletter, invitations, or other email marketing outreach.”

With consumers challenged with keeping their email inbox from becoming flooded, you need to be sure that what you’re sending them is worth their time. Keep messages short and attention-worthy, whether that’s a useful tip, a video, or some other idea or piece of information that improves your reader’s personal or business life. That’s how you develop a relationship with your prospects and customers that can yield significant revenue.

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