Category Archives: Established Business

5 Tips for Building Business Relationships that Lead to Successful Corporate Contracting

Cynthia Johnson, WBDC Director of Established Business Services

Cynthia Johnson, WBDC Director of Established Business Services

Contracting with major corporations can bring big bucks to any business, but what are the best ways to accomplish your goal of building the key relationships that mean profit for your business? Cynthia Johnson, Women’s Business Development Center’s (WBDC) Director of Established Business Services, shares five tips for successful corporate contracting:

1. Do research – doing business with a corporation isn’t about what they can do for you, but rather what you can do for them. The best way to find out their needs is to really understand a corporation’s mission, history, goals etc. Small business owners, particularly women and minorities, should create a vendor profile on the corporation’s supplier diversity page. The vendor profile includes contact information and other pertinent information about your business and can be accessed by supplier diversity representatives and corporate buyers. On the supplier diversity page, not only can you find information regarding corporation objectives, but you can be notified of outreach events and other relationship building opportunities.

Connection Points

2. Network with fellow small business owners – networking is vital, so make it count. We have an entire program called Connection Points built around the concept of focused networking. Networking with those who are in related or complimentary industries can offer all involved parties the opportunity to share ideas, trends, talents for the purposes of building relationships and strengthening businesses.

3. Value Proposition – it is important to write and maintain a strong value proposition, a clear concise “living” document that is used to give potential corporate clients a glimpse at the value your business can offer them. Your value proposition can be used as a means to introduce yourself or to as a relationship building tool in a one-on-one presentation meeting with the potential corporate client such as WBDC’s Contract Connections Program. In a value proposition you should:

Lead with your business strengths – make sure you highlight your capacity to manage awarded contracts, your financial strength & stability, past successes, bonding capacity (if applicable) and that you exemplify outstanding client services & best practices. Simply stating “I’m certified” won’t do; you must also display that you will offer the same high performance that corporations expect of all businesses they work with, and as a value-add you are also a certified WBE, MBE, DBE or VBE*.

4. Keep current – Renew your certifications and don’t let them lapse. Make sure you have paid close attention to any deadlines and paperwork you may have to complete to make this possible. Keeping current also means continuing to grow within your industry. Joining trade associations, subscribing to industry publications, attending industry events and sharing information with your professional peers will help you to stay relevant and build your expertise. These items are also impressive to add to your supplier diversity vendor profile and value proposition.

5. Be Persistent, But Patient – building a relationship in the business world is like building any other relationship. You want to let your potential corporate clients know you exist and highlight your value to them, but remember building a relationship takes time. Follow up is encouraged, but don’t be overbearing, when making a call or sending an email give time for the supplier diversity representative to process the information. Strong business relationships can take months or even years to cultivate, but in time, using these steps you can set the groundwork to be a success in corporate contracting.

For more information or set up an appointment to develop your corporate contracting plan, please call 312.853.3477 or contact Cynthia Johnson at cjohnson@wbdc.org. For government contracting tips, click here.
*WBE: Women’s Business Enterprise. MBE: Minority Business Enterprise. VBE: Veteran Business Enterprise. DBE: Disadvantaged Business Enterprise

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Social Media for the Professional Woman

Networking is key to building a successful business.  Not only should you attend networking events within your local business region, but also pay attention to online networking.  One of the top business networking sites today is LinkedIn, and with refreshed profiles, updated business pages and highly interactive groups, it’s here to stay.  Here is how you can efficiently and effectively maneuver through LinkedIn.

Profile Picture1. Update Your Picture!  Yes, this point is part vanity, part practical, mostly practical.  Make sure your profile picture is recognizable as you today – not ten years ago. A great picture shouldn’t be a glamour shot of what you look like touched up, unless you walk around with a makeup team on a daily basis.  Make it inviting, warm and add a hint of marketing by matching your attire with your brand colors or strategically post a logo in the background.

Connecting Picture2. Connect! It may seem like common sense, but you have to connect with people on LinkedIn to make it work for you.  When you send out invitations, keep it to people you have actually met or that you share a connection with.  In your invitation, explain why you’re connecting, unless you contact them on a regular basis, and then it’s okay to send a standard invite.  Be sure to check out who’s inviting you to connect; take a look at their profile, connections and groups.  Remember, once they’re a connection they can see your full profile and interactions.

LinkedIn Picture3. Join (and ENGAGE in) Groups: Explore all LinkedIn has to offer by joining groups relevant to you.  Search for your alma mater or one of your offline networking groups to join.  Active groups provide great information and events that can help you boost your business.  If you’re a woman business owner in the Midwest, consider joining the WBDC’s LinkedIn Group, Inspired Women, to engage with other professional women looking for advice, input and inspiration.

Resume Image4. Use It, or Lose It!  Make sure to update your not only your picture, but also your profile.  It’s a living resume, so keep it current.  You never know who’s looking for the skills and experience you have to offer.  Keep things interesting by making your headline relevant and engaging, with trigger words.  Learn more about headlines, and other parts of your LinkedIn strategies, in this free webinar recording.

LinkedIn Picture25. It’s About Business!  If you have a business, you should have a business page.  LinkedIn has come a long way in cultivating the business pages to better serve companies.  They now have header images, status updates, video advertising, product promotions and more for followers to interact with.

Spend 10 minutes a day implementing some of these tips, whether it be commenting in a group or updating your profile, and see what comes of it!  You never know what you’re missing out on until you try new strategies.

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Filed under Business, Business Leaders, Business Start-up, Entrepreneur, Established Business, Marketing, Social Media, Technology, WBDC, WBDC News

“Where do I find a grant to start my woman-owned business?”

All too often at the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) we hear the question, “Where are the grants for women to start their businesses?” The answer: There are none.  No really, there are none.  If you find a grant for women starting a business, please post the information in the comments below, because in the last 27 years we have yet to see one.

Yes, there are loans for business start-ups, small business competitions with cash prizes and occasionally, you can find grants through Small Business Administration (SBA) non-profit partners, if you are already in business, but you aren’t going to find a grant without showing you have some “skin in the game.”  You need to prove that you are just as invested in your business as investors, grantors or lenders are going to be.  It’s time to get serious and shift your focus from looking for free money to building a solid foundation with a business plan, a thorough analysis of your financials (past personal and projected business) and target market research.

A question was recently posted on PartnerUp regarding the necessity of a traditional business plan.  Some thought they were irrelevant in this day and age of the ever changing business climate, while others saw them as completely necessary.  What do you think? Based on what we’ve seen with clients over the years, the ones that write down their idea into a solid plan and update that plan on a yearly basis have seen the greatest success and continue to sustain a fruitful business.  Plus, when it comes time to look for funding, it’s unlikely you’ll be taken seriously without putting your business in writing.

So what can you do if you’re a start-up looking for funding?  If you’re in Chicago, consider the WBDC Micro Finance Program, a direct lending program where the WBDC, as a core member of the Chicago Microlending Intitute (CMI), is making loans for Chicago business owners seeking additional support.  Plus, the WBDC provides a free webinar, Take the Mystery out of Finance, every month, and below is the most recent recording of the presentation, which covers crowdfunding and more. Watch it, take notes, and if you have questions ask us at wbdc@wbdc.org.

In two weeks, we’ll discuss more about furthering your education as a business owner when it comes to finance.  In the meantime, take time to become educated on financial resources available for you.  Here are just a few more, besides WBDC, to take a look at:

  1. Accion
  2. SBA
  3. FunderHut
  4. Family and friends

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Small Business Saturday in Chicago’s Hyde Park

Below is an article written by the Women’s Business Development Center’s Kristin Travis reflecting on her experience with Small Business Saturday.

Small Business Saturday, held on the Saturday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, was created by American Express in 2010 with the mission of bringing communities together to promote local commerce.  I celebrated last year’s event, on November 26, 2011, in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.  Hyde Park is near and dear to my heart; I lived there for a while after moving back to Illinois following a 5-year leave.  Hyde Park, as you may know, has a very vibrant small business community, filled with a cornucopia of gift shops, restaurants, book stores and many other wonderful places to shop.

One night, while taking a final sip of stale coffee – a last ditch effort to keep my senses alert after hours of studying – I heard a phrase in the background that perked my ears, “Small Business Saturday!”   A commercial on CNN explained the event, causing me to perform a silent cheer in my seat.  I was overjoyed to hear that this event was beginning to gain a national presence.

So there I was at 8 a.m., on a cool, damp November 26, with a larger, fresher cup of coffee in hand, patiently waiting for the day’s events to begin.  Chant, a Hyde Park Thai food bistro conveniently positioned on the bustling 53rd Street, was the setting for breakfast with Santa and a lively press conference featuring several home-grown elected officials.  In attendance were Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama; Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle; Senator Kwame Raoul; State Representative Barbara Flynn Currie; 4th Ward Alderman Will Burns; Mike Davis and Wallace Goode of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce and a host of volunteers organized by the Chamber and Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP).

Despite the dismal weather, 53rd Street was abuzz with lights and the sound of honking horns in support of this community action.  Laughter glittered across the familiar faces that spoke at the press conference podium as fond memories were shared about life growing up in this close-knit neighborhood.   As the conference came to a close, Jarrett took a moment to reflect on the life of the late Maggie Daley, wife of the former Mayor Richard M. Daley and a great Chicagoan who championed for our youth and community.  It was in that spirit of community that Jarrett encouraged the audience to go out and support the local economy.

Now, just one year later, I am once again a proud resident of Hyde Park.  I relish in the fact that my fellow neighbors and I take so much pride in our local small businesses.  We know that it is shops like What the Traveler Saw, Wesley’s Shoe Corral, Kimbark Beverage Shoppe, Café 53, Hyde Park Produce and a host of other small and family-owned businesses that drive our community and communities like ours all across America.

Join me this November 24th, between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, on Small Business Saturday and support the local businesses in your neighborhood that work hard to keep America going strong.  Please click here to learn more about Small Business Saturday and to participate in events in your local community.

Kristin Travis Picture (PTAC Associate)

Kristin J. Travis is the Illinois Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) Associate at the WBDC. See pictures from her experience here.

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Filed under American Express, Business, Entrepreneur, Established Business, Small Business, Small Business Saturday, Special Events, WBDC, WIPP

Business Tips for Women in Small Business from the Women’s Business Development Center

Happy Women in Small Business Month!  Today’s post is split into two parts – one for women looking to start their business soon and one for those already in business.  Look through both sets of questions and refer back to them as you continue to build your business muscle!

Women Starting A Small Business

It may come as no surprise to you, but being a small business owner can be a difficult and demanding enterprise.  Here at the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) we see many clients when they’re first starting and weighing out the feasibility of their idea. So how do you know if it’s a viable concept?  Does it have lasting power?  Below are 10 questions from www.SBA.gov to help you assess if you’re ready to start a business:

  1. Why am I starting a business?
  2. What kind of business do I want?
  3. Who is my ideal customer?
  4. What products or services will my business provide?
  5. Am I prepared to spend the time and money needed to get my business started?
  6. What differentiates my business idea and the products or services I will provide from others in the market?
  7. Where will my business be located?
  8. How many employees will I need?
  9. What types of suppliers do I need?
  10. How much money do I need to get started?

To read 10 additional questions from the SBA, please click here.  If you need help answering these questions, look no further than you local business center – find yours by searching here.

Women Already in Small Business

Have you been in business for a few years?  Do you feel like you’re an old pro at marketing your product or service?  Well maybe it’s time to take a new approach to your small business and try something new.  Here are 10 questions to ask yourself about your business and personal life.

When was the last time I…

  1. Attended a networking event?
  2. Attended a workshop?
  3. Updated my business plan?
  4. Hosted a customer appreciation event?
  5. Updated my LinkedIn profile?
  6. Updated my website?
  7. Used my own product/service?
  8. Explored new markets?
  9. Went on vacation?
  10. Hired someone new?

If you answer “I can’t remember” to any of these – it’s time to do it!  Go out, meet new contacts, learn new tricks of the trade, say thank you to your loyal clients and so on!  Don’t let your business stagnate! 

We want to know: What do you do on a regular basis to keep your business current?

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Filed under Advocacy, Business, Business Leaders, Business Start-up, Entrepreneur, Established Business, Small Business, Special Events, Uncategorized, WBDC, Women Business Owner, Women in Business

Encore Business Owners Share Business Tips

(L-R) Judith Roussel, IL District Director; SBA, Merrie Dee, AARP Illinois President; Hedy Ratner, WBDC co-founder & co-president; and Marianne O’Brien Markowitz Regional Administrator
U.S. Small Business Administration, Midwest Region

The speakers and audience may have been 50-plus, but their age wasn’t the issue. Starting a business was.

Nearly 50 mature women and men gathered at the WBDC on Tuesday evening, October 2, during the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) “National Encore Entrepreneur Mentor Day.” Marianne Markowitz, SBA regional administrator, and Judith Roussel, SBA Illinois district director, welcomed the group, then turned the program over to the celebrated speaker and media pioneer Merri Dee, now a business owner in her own right as well as president of the executive council of Illinois-AARP. Dee led a lively panel discussion featuring “encore” entrepreneurs on the rewards of starting a business after age 50.

The speakers were Donna Smith Bellinger, owner of Group Endeavors; Ben Hollis, former host of WTTW’s “Wild Chicago” and now an independent video producer who started Ben Hollis Worldwide; Joanne Cleaver, a former business journalist who launched a public affairs company Wilson-Taylor Associates; and Alan Jacobs, a former entrepreneur-of-sorts who volunteers at SCORE.

Their life experiences were as varied and diverse as they were, which is what made their words of wisdom all the more salient.

Merri Dee

“All you need are three things: passion, purpose – and a paycheck!”

Donna Bellinger

“The resource that helped me the most was my database of contacts. I started my business without a dime, but I had my database.”

Alan Jacobs

“I was a serial entrepreneur – a manufacturer’s rep who never had a regular job or paycheck. I understand exactly what it takes to succeed as a business owner. In my opinion, entrepreneurs who fail weren’t prepared.”

Ben Hollis

“I encourage people to embrace and live the wild life. Harness your passion, your wildness….I used to undervalue everything I did. I was just a funny guy. The limitations we place on ourselves get in the way. By listening to other people, I was able to reassess my own value. Pay attention to the things you do best. It’s what other people appreciate in you.”

Joanne Cleaver

“I restarted my career several times. I decided to base my latest transition on my skills. As a certified media trainer and coach, I now apply my skills to a different set of clients. I’ve transitioned from being self-employed to being a job-creator with a contract staff of specialists. My biggest challenge? In realizing my value. The biggest obstacle? Myself.”

With part of the evening’s focus on celebrating mentorship, the speakers shared advice on how to be a good mentor and mentee. Cleaver, for example, said joining professional organizations helped her develop peer mentors who mentored each other. Bellinger suggested looking for mentors who are honest and direct and who “have achieved what you struggled to achieve.” Don’t overlook the younger generation, she advised. You can learn from each other.

The WBDC will survey seminar attendees to determine whether a special affinity group for women business owners age 50-plus, and regular networking and educational sessions, are of interest.

Contributed by guest blogger Chris Ruys of Chris Ruys Communications.

For more pictures from the event, please click here.

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Filed under AARP, Business, Business Mentoring, Business Start-up, Entrepreneur, Established Business, SBA, Special Events, WBDC, WBDC News

Teaming for Contracts and Growing Your Business with the Federal Government

From (L-R): Denise Rodriguez-Lopez, American Express OPEN Advisor on Teaming; Freida Curry, PTAC Director, WBDC; Alexandra Ytuarte, American Express OPEN, Senior Manager, Customer Advocacy

American Express OPEN Victory in Procurement has done a fantastic job of creating a robust environment through its LinkedIn group, with discussion from group members, over 50% of who are either chief operating officers or business owners.  Denise Rodriguez-Lopez, American Express OPEN Advisor on Teaming, who recently spoke at the Women’s Business Development Center’s (WBDC) Victory in Procurement Marketing to the Federal Government event, provides insight.

Ms. Rodriguez-Lopez’s responses in the group, along with feedback from an attendee of the Chicago event, will give you a jumping off point in navigating government contracting and tell you what the Victory in Procurement program can offer your business.

Q: What do you look for in a successful teaming relationship?

Ms. Rodriguez-Lopez:

“When you are looking at a potential teaming partner, there are a lot of questions you need to answer:  Are they reliable? Do they have experience? Do they have a positive industry reputation? Are they solid financially? You need to be comfortable and trust who you team with. Once you have vetted them, think about what the “team” will offer [you]:  do their services/products complement yours and is there a demand for what the team may offer? Also remember that teaming does not necessarily have to be with folks you don’t know.  Don’t overlook former employers and businesses within your circle.”

Q: Are there any particular websites that are used to identify companies in search of teaming partners?

Ms. Rodriguez-Lopez:

“Federal Procurement Data System www.fpds.gov; USA Spending www.usaspending.gov GSA E-Library http://www.gsaelibrary.gsa.gov/ElibMain/home.do; central Contractor Registration System www.ccr.gov*; trade associations for certain certifications, such as the 8(a) Association etc…”

Join the American Express OPEN Victory in Procurement LinkedIn group here: http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=4214818&trk=myg_ugrp_ovr

Joanne Cleaver attended the May 3rd American Express OPEN Victory in Procurement Marketing to the Federal Government workshop. Below is her response when asked what she learned  from attending the May event as well as what attendees can learn from the Victory in Procurement Marketing to the Federal Government workshop in St.Louis on October 3rd?

“My key take away from the May OPEN [Marketing to the Federal Government] event was how to tailor my pitch to specific upcoming contracting opportunities. Denise Rodriguez-Lopez was an engaging and informative presenter, with well organized material and thorough answers to all our questions.

Based on what I learned, along with the ongoing coaching from the WBDC’s well informed staff, I have developed a ‘government pursuit plan’ that focuses on identifying the highest-potential opportunities, marketing my firm’s strategic communication services directly to small business advocates and hopefully to purchasing managers and customizing our materials to be most effective.  As a result of all this, I have been invited to respond to a proposal for a substantial subcontracting opportunity with another woman-owned business.”

-Joanne Cleaver, Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc.  Develops and delivers effective strategic messages.  For more information about Ms. Cleaver’s business visit:  www.wilson-taylorassoc.com.

Register for the St. Louis American Express OPEN Victory in Procurement Marketing to the Federal Government here: http://goo.gl/I0Z1w

*Editors Note: As of July 29, 2012 ORCA and ccr.gov no longer exist. It is now www.sam.gov. If you have a prior CCR or ORCA account, it is possible to move data into www.sam.gov, once you have registered.


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Filed under American Express, Business, Established Business, Procurement, Small Business, St. Louis Small Business, St. Louis Women Business, Uncategorized, WBDC, WBDC News, Women Business Owner

Building a Better Business with Mentoring

The WBDC has been counseling, educating and assisting potential business owners and established business owners since 1986. Now we are expanding our services to include a mentoring program.  “Women helping women” is a common theme here at the WBDC.  Not only is “Women” part of our name (Women’s Business Development Center), but our staff is 96% female.

Let’s take a look at some facts about women entrepreneurs:

  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, “male entrepreneurs in the United States outnumber their female counterparts 3.5 to 1.”
  • 2010 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Study that showed that “less than half the women surveyed (47.7%) believe they are capable of starting and running a business (compared to 62.1% of men.)”

These statistics are the reason women’s business centers continue to be relevant and necessary, and why the WBDC is launching a business mentoring service.  If we can close that gap by even a tenth of a percent by directing potential entrepreneurs/start-ups, and even established business owners, towards competent, qualified mentors, then we have successfully brought businesses into fruition and spurred economic development.

Need more reasons to get involved in a business mentoring relationship?

From a recent Forbes article:

Here are some of the key reasons to become a mentor, from the viewpoints of several different female mentors:

  • Better understand the business: “My mentee helped me see issues in the company that I didn’t know existed.”
  • Better understand how people perceive you: “I was able to see the perception others held of me, through the eyes of my mentee.”
  • Create a larger network: “By helping others I’ve also created a network of allies I can rely upon when I need help.”
  • Help solve issues: “I’ve been able to step out of my own shoes and help my mentees see things from other perspectives. This, in turn, has helped me in resolving issues within my own department.”
  • Personal satisfaction: “I have been able to watch and actively help younger women succeed in our industry – and it’s such a wonderful feeling to help another person succeed!”

Learn more at the WBDC’s mentee and mentor webinars on September 7th and September 11th, respectively.

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The Women’s Business Development Center Invites You to the 26th Annual Entrepreneurial Woman’s Conference in Chicago, IL!

The WBDC staff invites you to attend the 26th Annual Entrepreneurial Woman’s Conference, Women’s Business & Buyers Mart on September 20, 2012 at Chicago’s McCormick Place-West!  View the video below for your invitation!

Register now to spend a full day connecting with key buyers, supplier diversity staff and/0r purchasing decision makers from both the corporate and government sectors!

Learn more about the events taking place on September 20th by clicking here.

Take a look at the Women’s Forum Breakfast Speaker Announcement here!

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Filed under Business, Business Leaders, Entrepreneur, Established Business, Procurement, Special Events, Uncategorized, WBDC, WBE, Women in Business

Plugging in with @thetechweek’s @ArabellaTV

It was a lack of innovation that led Arabella Santiago to become an innovator.  Stemming from a stint as a newspaper intern, followed by a successful run as a web editor for a west coast paper, Arabella realized print media was becoming a thing of the past, unwilling to listen to its customers.

That was Arabella in 2004 at 23 years old; now at 31 she has found her passion for reporting and drive for discovering unseen possibilities mix well with highlighting the talents of entrepreneurs.  When I asked Arabella about why she packed her things and made the trek from Silicon Valley to Chicago she said, “Chicago is the burgeoning tech hub.  You can feel the sense of opportunity and ambition.  There’s something here in Chicago, and I’m intrigued by it and I know it’s already happening.”

Arabella talks of entrepreneurs with a sense of awe, almost unaware that she herself is one, having created StartUp Live, a website filled with a collection of videos based on the start-up culture.  When it comes to the culture of start-ups, Arabella has a great grasp on what makes small business owners tick: “The journey of the business owner fascinates me.  As long as they don’t give up, they always succeed.  Even though there are many failures along the way, they go hand in hand with the successes. The perseverance goes a long way.”

Arabella has been part of TechWeek from the beginning.  Originally hired by one of the founders for the inaugural event in San Francisco, she stepped into the role of executive director for the Chicago event late last year.   There’s something for everyone during the conference, with 101 workshops on development or connecting with people offline.  Even if you’re not in the tech industry you can find out how to start small and work your way up.  Small business owners take note – if you’re looking for a web designer, an SEO genius or simply someone to make it all make sense, take a moment to stop in!

I turned the conversation towards the women of TechWeek, of which there are plenty to pick from.  “It’s important for people to realize that technology will help you do business better.  Women are harnessing the power of social media for their small businesses; now we can see the female programmers and developers that aren’t often in the spotlight.”  When asked which one woman inspired her, Arabella answered first with Hillary Clinton, quickly followed by her close friend and mentor, Yumi Kim, a New York fashion designer who took her business from “barely getting by” to “booming” through the power of e-commerce.

“Chicago is going to be the heart of TechWeek as it continues to grow.  It is and will continue to be the marquee event.  Chicago needs a new industry.  Manufacturing is tough and there’s room for technology.”

Reported by the Women’s Business Development Center’s (WBDC) Bethany Hartley.

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