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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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Filed under Business, Established Business, Supplier Diversity, WBE, Women Business Owner, Women in Business

Business Finance: Anywhere, Anytime

As the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) continues to expand our Access to Capital Program we are focused on extending services through direct lending and the development of online/on-demand course offerings.  Whether your business is in the city of Chicago or throughout our nine state Midwest region, we strive to provide your business with a strong financial foundation.

The WBDC’s online/on-demand educational platform will be launched in spring 2013.  Ingage Partners, a Certified WBE company, partnering with TiER1 Performance Solutions has been selected to assist the WBDC in implementing this new system.  The first course, Take the Mystery out of Finance, will be offered in both Spanish and English and cover the basics of finance for your business.  The WBDC selected this course as the launching pad for our online education because we know how important business financial literacy is in running a successful business.

In the interim we have put together a list of useful, easy to use tools to help manage your financials from your computer, tablet or smartphone.  Take a look and let us know which ones you have used.

  1. Wallstreet Journal Excel Shortcuts: Simply put, these cheat sheets
  2.  help navigate running your finances through Excel, particularly useful when utilizing the WBDC’s Financial Projections Excel spreadsheet.
  3. InDinero: Access and manage your books, file your taxes and take care of payroll on multiple devices through a secure connection.  Plus, the company was founded by a woman – Jessica Mah.
  4. Intuit’s GoPayment: Allows you to accept payments anywhere, from anyone with no transaction fees.  Be careful to read the full details, as there are costs associated, but at least the app and cancellation are free.
  5. LightSpeed Retail Inc.: A virtual, portable hub to keep track of sales and inventory, create invoices and print receipts.
  6. MIT Entrepreneurship Open Courses: While this isn’t an app, it is a great resource for free online entrepreneurial education.

What do you use to manage your business finances?  Have you tried any tools that simply do not work?  Let us know!

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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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Women’s Business Development Center: Your growth is our business. An explanation of the refreshed WBDC logo

The Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) is excited and overwhelmed with pride at the release of our newly refreshed logo!  The logo features the traditional purple and orange color scheme that has become associated with the WBDC’s brand combined with a modern and progressive new icon and layout!

The icon represents the continuous growth the WBDC has experienced over the past 26 years as well as our commitment to partnering with business owners for growth throughout the life cycle of your business.  Leaves surround an upward moving “W” which is set in a forward moving fashion to illustrate the idea of business growth, expansion and advancement.

The new tagline, “Your growth is our business” underscores the WBDC’s continuing commitment to our mission: “To provide services and programs that support and accelerate women’s business ownership and strengthen their impact on the economy.”  While much progress in women’s business ownership has been made since the WBDC was founded in 1986, there is still much to be done.  The WBDC continues to develop and offer responsive, innovative and effective programs and advocacy efforts.  We’re here to assist you in taking your business to the next level.  

Watch for the new logo to begin appearing on WBDC print materials and online sites!

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Three Essentials to Effective Webinars

After experiencing webinars first hand as a guest, and in preparation for the WBDC’s webinar series launch coming in January, I have compiled a brief list of the “Three Essentials to Effective Webinars” that any organization or business should keep in mind when planning:

  1. Know your audience:  Whether you’re preparing an entire webinar series or just getting your toes wet with a single session, you should research where the market is lacking and combine that with your expertise.  There are clearly fields of knowledge that are saturated with information, like “home based businesses” so even if that is your expertise perhaps trying to tie it in with a specific industry or field.  For instance, “Social Media Marketing for Home-Based Businesses.”  Collaborate with someone familiar with social media strategies and work together to create a great webinar.
  2. Quality above all else:  This means quality audio equipment, quality graphics and quality takeaways.  I recently sat in on a webinar about social media and was blown away by the poor sound quality.  It completely distracted from the subject being discussed.  On top of bad sound quality, the slides were moving at a different pace to the speaker’s discussion, making it difficult to follow and challenging to take notes.  Quality does not mean spending a lot of money on audio equipment or video software, but simply taking the time to test out what you have and adjust accordingly.  Quality takeaways are what you give your attendees.  Do they walk away feeling like they learned something or that they just wasted an hour of their day hearing something they already knew?  Be sure to describe your webinar accurately so people don’t join under false pretences, which can make for unhappy feedback.
  3. Engagement: The main perk of doing webinars vs, “how-to” videos is the two-way communication.  The instant engagement adds a level of enrichment that videos lack.  Make your webinar full of information and be prepared to answer questions and receive different opinions on the subject.  Just because you are an expert doesn’t mean you know everything!  Engagement should go beyond the one hour webinar: create a call to action for attendees.  Maybe you want them to leave questions on your blog, direct them to do so in a way that isn’t pushy and blatantly saying you want more traffic to your blog. Perhaps write a supplemental blog post that publishes immediately following the webinar with a question sheet for attendees.  People enjoy giving their opinion, especially online!

Keep these three tips in mind when you go to create your webinars and let us know how it goes!  Sit in on one of our webinars starting in January, if you’re looking to learn more about starting and growing your business.   We encourage your feedback!  And if you have any more tips, put them below!

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Filed under Business, Business Start-up, Entrepreneur, Established Business, Marketing, Small Business, Technology, Uncategorized, WBDC, Webinar

Focus on Finance Part 2: Three Things Lenders Are Looking For

Eva Brown is the Director of the Access to Capital Program at the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC).  She provides financial business counseling and training to WBDC clients, including a monthly workshop titled “Take the Mystery out of Finance.” The next workshop will be held January 17,, 2012.   In Part 2, Eva discusses: “What Are the Top Three Things Lenders Look For?”  She briefly outlines the importance of cash flow, credit scores and collateral for potential entrepreneurs.  What other small business finance questions would you like Eva to answer?

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Could Your Business Use a Makeover?

If your business could do with a good technology makeover, there’s still time to submit an application for the WBDC’s Third Annual Small Business Technology Makeover Competition. You could win more than $100,000 in free technology products and business services. The deadline to apply is December 15 at 5 p.m.

Trust us, the two previous winners are thrilled to have entered and won. Julie Savitt, owner of AMS Earth Movers, will tell you that the earth moved the day in early January 2010 when she learned she championed over 100 women entrepreneurs to win $35,000 in services and equipment. Last year, Linda Toops won $60,000 in products and services for her company, Clerestory Consulting.

The WBDC sponsors the competition in a collaborative partnership with such wonderful corporate and small business sponsors as CDW, Constant Contact, COSi, Directions Training Center, Etchasoft, Falkor, MarketM, Microsoft and Microsoft Store.

Julie’s company, AMS Earth Movers, with six employees and four company-owned trucks, is a construction materials hauling company, whose primary service is the hauling of aggregate, brick, broken asphalt, soil and contaminated soil to and from job sites in the greater Chicago area. Its antiquated technology was dragging it down – but all that changed when Julie won the top prize.

Today, she has a new website, an upgraded computer server and network, computer hosting and maintenance, high-speed internet bundled with nationwide long distance and email hosting, a color printer and supplies and a Sharepoint portal set up for team collaboration. Plus, she received the training to use it all.

Winning the competition gave Julie the courage to do something she never anticipated: resigning 25 percent of her residential customers who were slow-paying. Instead, she concentrated on winning federal government “stimulus” projects and began working directly with general contractors to win business. Some 95 percent of her clients now pay within 30-45 days, she says. She is now generating an average of two new customers each month.

Clerestory Consulting is a change-management consulting firm that focuses on helping clients receive measurable business results that lead to decreased costs and increased profitability. They work in a variety of industries including manufacturing, financial services, education, not-for-profit and city government.

In her awards application, Linda wrote that the majority of their laptops, printers and servers were eight years old, and many were used when originally purchased. Laptops are essential to their business because each consultant takes them to a job site and spends between 40 to 50 hours a week using them to gather data, create and analyze spread sheets, and to cost-justify their recommendations to their clients. The economic downturn prevented the firm from purchasing new equipment; the prize package enabled them to improve operations and become profitable once again.

This year’s prize package includes a small business server; 1 networked printer; 1 projector; 2 headsets; 7 laptop computers; $30,000 scholarship to Executive Business Training; website development, including brand design and content; installation and configuration hardware, labor and support; 5 licenses of Microsoft Small Business Server Premium 2008, Microsoft Office Professional 2010 and Windows 7 Ultimate; full suite of email marketing products, and much more.

Click here for more information and to submit your application today!

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