Building Your Virtual Brand

5 Tips on Blogging for Your Business

Nowadays, it’s nearly impossible to run a company that has no online presence. Even if your business has yet to develop a website, chances are it’s been reviewed on Yelp, discussed in a message board or bragged about on Facebook. IMG Woman Business Online

Yet there’s a lot of value in taking your online appearance into your own hands and creating a landing page for yourself. Companies as small as your local laundromat have already jumped on board.

So what’s the next step in building your virtual brand? Many business owners are launching a company blog in order to humanize their product, connect with their audience and share new initiatives without spending a lot of time or money. The great news is that, with the right tools, they can make an enormous difference for you and your potential customers – or even go viral. The flipside is that they can also fall flat without an audience at all. It’s all about how you do it.

Here are five tips on blogging to grow your business’ web prowess and hit a home run in the virtual world:

1. Keep it short

Gone are the days of long, flowery descriptions and thorough evaluations. Today’s reader is looking for the meat of your article, and they want it now. Often, someone perusing a blog has five or six other tabs open on their browser while reading your words. Keep your sentences short. Limit your paragraphs to two or three sentences if you can. Try to keep your articles around 500 words. And write with passion!

2. Use numbers

A great way to keep attention on your blog is to use numbers. Create a list and number each heading (like we did with this one). Include the number in your title. “4 Ways to Go on a Greek Vacation”. “8 Activities Not to Do Before Bed”. “3 Things my Mother Taught Me”. For extra effectiveness, try making your sub-headings count down (5-1) rather than up (1-5).

3. Media is your friend

If you want to make sure your online article is never read, make it long, use big words, and don’t include any pictures. Fortunately, visual media is easier to get your hands on than ever. There are great stock photos available for cheap for small businesses. There are amazing videos that can be embedded from YouTube and Vimeo. Use them, and don’t forget to cite your source to keep your Internet karma intact.

4. Ask the audience

Nothing is more important than your audience when it comes to writing a blog post. Always keep the intent of your article in sight, and make sure it’s creating value for your readers. Engage them by asking a question at the end of the post and encouraging them to answer it in the comments section. Bonus points for giveaway items and contests. There’s a lot that someone will do for a free water bottle.

5. Join the community

If you really want your blog to be popular, make sure you know your community. Just like your parents taught you, you can’t make friends only talking about yourself. The blogging life is similar. Find your contemporaries and comment on their posts. Join social networks and retweet others’ articles. Make yourself a member of the community, and the community will reward you.

Want more tips on how to grow your brand using your blog? Join Go Girl Travel Network at the first-ever Women in Travel Summit for female travel bloggers and brands. Learn more at http://www.witsummit.com.

Beth Santos is Founder and CEO of Go Girl Travel Network, a resource and community for women travelers and the creator of the Women in Travel Summit. Beth is a current MBA candidate at the Kellogg School of Management and runs the monthly Chicago Founders’ Stories events with venture capitalist and social entrepreneur Pat Ryan at 1871. Visit her website at bethsantos.com for more information about her projects and to learn about her blogging classes and speaking engagements. 

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Affordable Care Act and Your Small Business

You want the best for your employees (and their families), and you know that making sure their health needs are met has been proven to decrease turnover, increase morale and keep your employees well enough to do their jobs worry-free.  With the changes in healthcare, you may question what this will mean to them and your business.  Even though the answers may be different for each business; here are a few facts to help you make important decisions regarding your employees’ wellness, regardless of your business.

-          Notifications – Employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act must make sure all newly hired employees (as of October 1, 2013) are provided with notification about the new Health Insurance Marketplace.  Employers must let employees know they may be eligible for a premium tax credit if they purchase coverage through the Marketplace, and that they may lose the employer contribution (if applicable) to any health benefits plan offered by the employer.

-          SHOP: Access to Health Care Marketplace – Employers with up to 50 full-time or full-time equivalent (FTE) employees will have access to the new health care insurance marketplaces through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP).  Employers with 25 or fewer full-time or FTE employees may also participate in SHOP and may qualify for a small business health care tax credit which is worth up to 50% of your premium costs.

-          Medical Loss Ratio & Rebates – Employers could receive a premium rebate if their insurers do not meet their Medical Loss Ratio.  Employers who receive these rebates and determine that the rebate constitutes a plan asset may determine a reasonable and fair allocation of the rebate.

-          Employer Shared Responsibility – Though employers are not required to provide coverage to their employees under the Affordable Care Act, employers with at least 50 full-time or FTE employees that do not offer health coverage will be subject to a shared responsibility payment under the health care law.  View the chart below.  Businesses with fewer than 50 full-time or FTE employees are generally not affected by these provisions.   Click here for more information.

-          New Wellness Incentives – The Affordable Care Act creates new incentives to promote employer wellness programs and encourages opportunities to support healthier workplaces.  A wellness program can be provided to promote health and fitness at the workplace or insurance plans can offer them directly to their enrollees.

The WBDC is holding a workshop to address the questions of small business owners on March 12, 2014.  To learn more and to register today, please click here.  For more information about the Affordable Care Act, please visit www.healthcare.gov.

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By: Kristin Travis, Illinois PTAC Associate

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Five Tools for Developing Your Forecasting Plan for Government Contracting

By the time you visit government contract opportunities websites, you usually have a limited amount of time to submit proposals or bids. However, firms wishing to contract with local and Federal governments have several tools at their disposal to help extend the time they have to plan for procurements and to respond to RFPs. Knowing what these tools are and how to utilize them is critical to contracting success. This post will discuss five tools you can use to forecast government contracting opportunities and to fuel your strategy. Focus on these tools to develop your forecasting plan: 

  1. Build business relationships – Contracting or procurement officers, supplier diversity representatives and small business specialists are routinely listed in forecasting plans. Often, their direct contact information is included as well. This can give you some time to begin to develop relationships with key procurement personnel.
  2. Develop a team – Based on the potential procurement listed in the forecast, you may decide that you are interested, but need to increase your capacity in order to fulfill the contract. Teaming allows for businesses to combine their expertise and talents to perform on projects that are larger than they could take on their own.
  3. Research – Requests for Information (RFI) are research tools used by procurement personnel to help them identify potential solutions to existing problems. Even though respondents’ results often show up in subsequent RFPs, an RFI is not a promise to issue an RFP in the future. Many times, responding to RFIs provides a unique perspective regarding challenges the agency is facing and gives you an opportunity to make suggestions regarding what they should include in the future RFP if it goes forward.
  4. Decide on certification – Sources sought are used primarily in Federal government procurements and their purpose is to determine who is available in the market to perform a particular task. In the case of the Federal government, if two or more qualified businesses of a certain socioeconomic group respond to a sources sought request, the contracting officer may choose to set the contract aside for that group. With this knowledge, you may decide that it is to your advantage to certify as a Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB), Disadvantaged Small Business (DSB), Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone), or any other designation in which you qualify to become certified.
  5. Create a timeline – Forecasting and buying plans will usually have a general time frame denoting when the contract opportunity will be posted to the public. It is best to use that date and work backward, so that you can determine when tasks need to be completed. This can include actions such as building business relationships, developing a team, conducting research, obtaining training, or getting certification prior to submitting a proposal.

All in all, as a business owner interested in doing business with the government, you must understand that using forecasting as a tool can allow you to glean crucial information that will enhance your government contracting strategy.

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By: Kristin Travis, Associate, IL PTAC at the WBDC

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Business Mentoring is a Business Builder

mentoringA mentoring relationship can take form in many different stages of your career.  Recently it has become one of the most important relationships a young entrepreneur can establish.  The unconditional knowledge and advice a trusted and established entrepreneur can offer is invaluable.  Many successful business owners will credit a large portion of their success to a few key individuals who helped mold them into the business owners they are today.

It has been proven that new business owners see concrete results in their companies when they enter into a mentoring relationship.  New entrepreneurs who received mentoring increased their revenue by an average of $47,300 or 106% ( Htet).  It has also been shown that businesses who received mentoring created 4.75 jobs on average (2.5 jobs more than those that did not receive mentoring) (Htet).

Stephanie Hickman, owner of Trice Construction Company, found her mentor through the Clinton Foundation and strongly believes that finding the right mentor is extremely important..  She explains, “the mentoring relationship is one of the most personal relationships of your life, so there must be a level of chemistry and like-minded alignment that comes naturally between both individuals.”  Hickman cites trust as a necessary component for the relationship to be truly beneficial and valuable.

Now the question becomes how do you have a successful mentoring relationship?  Here are four tips to make your mentoring experience most successful!

  1. Set up specific goals and expectations with your mentor from the start of the relationship.
  2. Create a realistic implantation plan with specific steps towards achieving these goals.
  3. Establish regular meetings (even phone meetings) in order to assure the relationship is a priority for both parties involved. 
  4. Track and evaluate the progress throughout the duration of the relationship.

The Women’s Business Development Center offers a mentoring program through an online portal supplemented by programming including webinars and in person meet-ups to strengthen  the relationships between mentors and mentees.

Mentoring

Works Cited

Htet Lin Thu, Jason. 2013 Business Outcomes Report. Rep. Micro Mentor, n.d. Web.

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What is a Disparity Study and Why You Should Participate ?

Did you know that diversity programs are constantly at risk of elimination?  Government agencies, corporations and large primes regularly review, and sometimes challenge, the need for small business utilization when awarding contracts.   Have you ever wondered what you can do as an owner to help ensure these diversity programs are available for your small, women-owned or minority-owned firm (often referred to as ‘disadvantaged’ businesses)?  One of the things you can do is be a voice for disadvantaged businesses by participating in diversity studies.  Women in Business Image

The timing is right for you to participate in a diversity study since the Illinois Department of Central Management Services (CMS) is currently holding disparity study interviews.  We encourage you to attend one of the interview sessions — click here for more information and to participate.

What is a disparity study?  The purpose of a disparity study is to determine if an agency or corporation has engaged in the exclusion of certain groups in the solicitation and award of current and past contracts. Disparity studies are necessary to illustrate the importance of ‘set-aside’ programs such as Women Business Enterprise, Minority Business Enterprise, Business Enterprise Program for Persons with Disabilities, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, etc.

A typical disparity study allows you to relate your experiences regarding contracting with an agency.  You may be asked questions surrounding the topics of:

  • Expenditures of contracts awarded

  • Subcontract dollars awarded by prime

  • Past or current policies, programs or procedures that drive the procurement of contracts

Quantitative and qualitative data is often collected through public hearings, interviews, surveys and focus groups.  Generally, anecdotal data is also collected to determine if race, gender or other forms of discrimination are present in the procurement process.  Studies typically follow a defined group over a defined period of time.

What are some other important reasons to participate in a disparity study?

Your participation could provide valuable information that validates an agency’s rationale for updating their diversity goals.  Disparity studies have also helped several local agencies establish a need for W/M/DBE programs.

To receive notifications about upcoming disparity studies as the Women’s Business Development Center becomes aware of them, please join our e-mail list at www.WBDC.org.

Sources:

http://www.nera.com/59_2147.htm

https://www2.illinois.gov/cms/events/Documents/CMS%20Disparity%20Study.pdf

http://bondsforschools.dadeschools.net/Files/Disparitystudyfaqs.pdf

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By: Kristin Travis, IL PTAC Associate at the Women’s Business Development Center

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Government Shutdown and Your Small Business- 5 Things You Need to Know

  1. There are several functions of the U.S. Small Business Administration that will be affected by the recent government shutdown. Click here for SBA’s Plan for Operating in the Event of Lapse of Appropriations packet.  Business functions such as applications for business loans guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will be halted until the agency returns to its normal operations. The agency will, however, still administer disaster loans for businesses, such as those affected by droughts or Hurricane Sandy.  Existing loan guarantees will remain in effect.  For a complete listing of loans you can and can’t get, please click here.
  2. Contractors can find a listing of the contingency plans of the Federal agencies with which they do business on the White House’s websiteThis includes agencies such as the General Services Administration (GSA), Department of Defense (DoD) and the SBA. You can find a list of full and partial agency shutdowns here.
  3.  Many Federal call centers and help desks will be closed at this time, but some will remain open. The Federal Service Desk – a call center designed to respond to questions regarding your System for Award Management (SAM) registration will remain open.  Additionally, SAM will remain operational; registrations can be updated, managed and processed throughout this time.
  4. Several Federal government websites will not be updated until funds are appropriated to their respective agencies.  Others, however, will currently remain operational, for example, Federal Business Opportunities (FedBizOpps), the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), Security and Exchange Commission (SEC).
  5. Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTAC) and Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) like the PTAC/SBDC at the Women’s Business Development Center are here to provide information as it becomes available regarding how your business may be affected.  Please do not hesitate to contact your local PTAC or SBDC.  If your business is located in Illinois, please click here to schedule an appointment with our PTAC/SBDC at the Women’s Business Development Center.  If your business is located outside of Illinois please click here to find a PTAC in your area or here to locate an SBDC in your area.
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Kristin Travis

 

by: Kristin Travis, IL PTAC Associate

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Five Sure-fire Business Building Tips from Top Women Entrepreneurs

What does it take to not only survive but thrive as a business owner? Who better to ask than the two entrepreneurs who will be honored at the WBDC’s 27th Annual Entrepreneurial Woman’s Conference on September 26th!

Carolyn Gable, CEO of New Age Transportation, Distribution & Warehousing Inc., will receive the Entrepreneurial Woman of the Year award, and Lili Hall, president and CEO of KNOCK, inc., will receive the Entrepreneurial Woman of the Year – WBE Success award. Here, they give us a taste of the business-building tips they’ll share at the 27th Annual Hall of Fame Awards Luncheon.

  1. Be positive and believe! A business owner’s biggest challenge — to stay positive –starts “on the day you have your first thought about business ownership,” according to Carolyn.

    Carolyn Gable

    “It’s easy to stay positive when the phones are ringing off the hook, but expect many ebbs and flows along the way,” she continues. “Being a business owner means taking on the huge responsibility of always ‘knowing’ that things will work out.”

  2. Never take anything for granted. Lili, who self-financed the launch of her ad agency during the 2006 recession, admits she wasn’t always sure the business would survive. Today, after having lived through two recessions, she believes that maintaining an attitude of appreciation helped get her through the toughest times. “I’ve learned that having patience, perseverance and the right attitude always prevail,” she affirms.
  3. Let go of your ego, and don’t be ruled by emotions. Carolyn recalls angrily walking away from a lucrative piece of business because the client was reluctant to pay her what she believed to be was a fair commission. As she climbed into her car to leave the meeting, she realized that she hadn’t handled the situation properly. “Silly to ever let your ego or emotions rule in those situations,” she states.
  4. Hire the best employees you can afford.

    Lili Hall

    Lili suggests surrounding yourself with a collaborative team of people who are entrepreneurial in spirit and who are as passionate about the business as you are. You want employees who “are open to smart, new ways of doing things,” she says.

  5. Never ever give up. “Just when you least expect it, your next big account or big sale is on its ways to you,” Carolyn affirms. “Your next miracle is just a phone call or an email away!”

Ready for your own miracle? Then don’t miss the WBDC’s 27th Annual Entrepreneurial Woman’s Conference, Women’s Business & Buyers Mart. Online registration is closed, but you can register at the door!  See you there!

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Writing Winning Proposals – The Bid/No Bid Decision

By: Freida Curry, Director of the Illinois Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) at the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) In last month’s Insider, I provided 6 steps for writing winning proposals.  The first step listed was ‘Make a Bid/No Bid’ decision.  In this issue, we are going to spend more time on this important step, and have invited Eileen Kent, President of Custom Keynotes, as our guest blogger.  Eileen, who has trained thousands of business owners nationwide in federal sales, proposal writing and GSA schedule contracting, is known in the industry as the “Federal Sales Sherpa” because she guides companies up the long and treacherous mountain path of federal contracting. 

The following are Eileen’s comments and suggestions about establishing a bid/no bid decision process: 

Eileen Kent

In my experience, one of the more rocky roads up the path to federal sales success is writing a blind proposal as a response to a bid posted on the public website FedBizOpps.gov. It’s as dangerous as walking up a mountain path with a blindfold on. You only have only a 5% chance of making it to the top three finalists.

If that is the case, then why do owners gamble their resources when there is such a low probability of making it to the top? Because owners believe their companies are perfect for the project – when, in fact, they often had no business bidding on it in the first place!

It is crucial that you take the time to evaluate and explore whether you should bid or not bid on an ‘opportunity,’ and I strongly advise owners and business development professionals to build a bid/no bid decision process that helps you decide which proposals to invest your time and talent.

Build a Bid/No Bid Decision Process

In my opinion and experience, you don’t stand a chance if you’ve never pre-sold to the customer inside the government. The goal is to “only write winners” (proposals) and that means you’ve already pre-sold the solution and you’re simply defending the win within theproposal.

A great way to judge your potential success is to ask yourself these questions below. If you don’t know any of the answers, you’re writing a blind bid and that means you only have a 5% chance or less of winning.

  1. Who is the incumbent?
  2. What does the customer think of the incumbent?
  3. Who are the other competitors calling on the client?
  4. Can the incumbent bid on this opportunity? What if they are a large business and the proposal states it is seeking small businesses? Could they bid with a small business teaming partner? If so, who is that small business? What does the customer think of them?
  5. Do I have the bonding capacity and the finances to be able to back such a project?
  6. Do I have the ability to provide the government agency the transparency it requires in terms of my costs, my team’s pay and my finance system? Would I withstand a Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) audit?
  7. Have I performed work at this agency before? How did I perform?
  8. What are the past performance requirements? Did I do something in similar size and scope – at that agency?
  9. What are the products the government agency is requesting? Do I have the name brand products it is requesting or the “equivalent?”
  10. Does the customer know me? Do I know the customer? Have we worked together? Did they ask me to watch out for this bid?
  11. Have I built teaming partners and lined them up prior to the bid hitting the streets?
  12. What is the contract vehicle? Do I have it? If it is an Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract, do I have the sales team to uncover and win each task?
  13. What are the billing processes and the invoicing procedures at this agency?
  14. If the government agency is asking for key staff, do I have THE people on my staff it  told me it wanted or am I just filling a position to fit their description?
  15. Is this opportunity in my specialty? Do they know me for this specialty?
  16. Do I have the security clearances for this project, or am I scrambling to get them now?
  17. Do I know the story behind the opportunity? Why is this on FedBizOpps? Why didn’t they use a current prime, a GSA schedule or another contracting vehicle to avoid all the “noise” of a public procurement?
  18. When did I hear about this bid?
  19. When is the bid due?
  20. Was I invited to bid, or did I just pull this off the public bidding website?
  21. Who do I know at the agency – the end user, the contracting officer, or the stakeholder, or all three or none?

My motto is “Write Less Proposals – WIN More.” If you put as much time and investment in knowing the answers to the above questions by developing strong relationships, great past performance and excellent teaming partnerships before the bid hits the streets – as you do writing the proposal – you should be in a good position to be among the top three finalists. And even if you lose, you’re in a great position to be the winner the next time around.

If you want to hear more from Eileen Kent, visit her website at http://www.customkeynotes.com.

For more information on proposal writing, certification, finding contract opportunities, and developing a government contracting strategy we invite you to schedule a free appointment today with a WBDC Illinois PTAC counselor by calling 312-853-3477 x 100.

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Breakfast Panelists #EWC27 Part 2 – Emilia DiMenco & Debra Jennings-Johnson, Plus Moderator Terry Savage

If you’re in the market for some great business words of wisdom and inspiration, then you won’t want to miss the 27th Annual Entrepreneurial Woman’s Conference on Thursday, September 26, at McCormick Place.

Emilia DiMenco

Emilia DiMenco

Joining WBDC co-founders Hedy Ratner and Carol Dougal on stage at the popular Forum Breakfast will be three women with a passion for helping women business owners succeed. They’re oh-so-ready, willing and eager to share their tips on what it takes to make it in the business world.

Emilia DiMenco, the WBDC’s dynamic new president and CEO, and Debra Jennings-Johnson, supplier diversity director at BP America Inc. and the WBDC’s long-time board president, will participate in what is certain to be a dynamic conversation, moderated by best-selling author Terry Savage.

When you bump into Emilia, Debra or Terry at the Conference, make sure you have these personal tidbits to launch a conversation that can build your business connections!

Debra Jennings-Johnson

Debra Jennings-Johnson

  • Emilia loves to travel abroad. As a graduation present, Emilia will take her soon-to-be-an-engineer son on a trip to Africa. Last year, she took a three-week trip to China.
  • Debra, who collects antiques and art, was inspired to have a career in business because of two role models: her successful aunts.
  • When she’s not traveling to major speaking engagements or writing another book on finance, Terry relaxes at her second home in Wisconsin where she boats and rides one of two show horses.
Terry Savage

Terry Savage

So what the does future hold for this evolving organization and women’s business ownership in general?  To find out, don’t miss EWC and as always, stay tuned to the WBDC’s Twitter and Facebook accounts! One thing’s for sure:  the WBDC will continue its commitment to fighting the challenges that continue to exist everywhere for women- and minority-owned businesses.

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Breakfast Panelists #EWC27, Part 1 – Hedy Ratner and Carol Dougal

Hedy Ratner and Carol Dougal, who on August 1 stepped aside as co-presidents of the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC), are synonymous with women’s business ownership. They started the organization 27 years ago with one purpose: to give women a leg up in finding economic independence through entrepreneurship. Hedy Ratner and Carol Dougal

You’ll get their take on this still-timely topic at the Women’s Forum Breakfast during the 27th Annual Entrepreneurial Woman’s Conference September 26th at McCormick Place, Lakeside Center. They’ll be joined on the panel by Emilia DiMenco, the WBDC’s dynamic new president and CEO, and Debra Jennings-Johnson, supplier diversity director at BP America and the organization’s long-time board president, in what is certain to be a dynamic conversation, moderated by the inimitable best-selling author Terry Savage.

A few things you won’t hear about at this year’s Forum Breakfast are the more fun facts about Hedy and Carol.  However, they do make great conversation starters so keep them in mind when you bump into one of them walking the tradeshow floor or networking at the reception!

  • Hedy is an avid biker, not just on weekends but weekdays when she pedals to and from meetings – in gaily-colored silk dresses, no less.
  • Hedy is a new bride. She married the love of her life, retired PR exec Mort Kaplan, in August of 2012.
  • Hedy, who with Carol is an ardent feminist, will continue at the WBDC as a consultant, working on women’s economic empowerment issues.
  • Carol has a weakness for bright colors, green jello, the movies – oh, and “holding babies,” which she plans to do a lot of, now that she’s retired.

So what the does future hold for this evolving organization and women’s business ownership in general?  To find out, don’t miss EWC and as always, stay tuned to the WBDC’s Twitter and Facebook accounts! One thing’s for sure:  the WBDC will continue its commitment to fighting the challenges that continue to exist everywhere for women- and minority-owned businesses.

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