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Mistakes and Solutions for Veteran Business Owners

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By Debbie Gregory.

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Military veterans have an entrepreneur spirit and tend to start a lot of businesses.  They have years of military service and experiences to draw upon and are highly disciplined.  Like any other group of business entrepreneurs, veterans also make mistakes. Fortunately, many of these mistakes can be avoided.

 

Below are five of the most common mistakes that most veterans make when starting or running a small business with ways to overcome them:

 

  1. Trying to do it all alone

There are only so many hours in a day and there is a limit to how much one person can know and do alone. You simply can’t spread yourself too thin and micromanage every aspect of your business and still be successful.

 

Choosing not to work with other people significantly reduces your ability to serve your customers. When you miss opportunities due to lack of knowledge or experience; keep in mind that you are also missing sales due to lack of time.

 

The solution

You need to hire the best talent you can possibly find and then empower them to make decisions on their own. As your business grows, you will need to focus more on higher level concerns to keep the business running smoothly. A good leader knows when and how to delegate.  They know that they need to trust their employees to make the right decisions on behalf of the business.

 

  1. Hiring the wrong people

This is another huge problem since the wrong employees will drain your business of resources, time, and energy.   This can both damage the productivity of the entire team and your business reputation in the market.

 

The solution

The old ways of hiring people based on one quick interview and maybe calling references are obsolete in today’s market. You need to expand your hiring process, get a little creative so that you can better identify the right candidates for your business. You Might consider adding a relevant task to complete or doing the interviews in group setting to see how the candidates respond and performs.

 

  1. Ignoring smaller-dollar sales

The number one reason for business failure is that the business didn’t have enough cash to cover regular expenses such as payroll, rent, and utilities. If you are strapped for cash, it may look like a good idea to turn away small-dollar deals.  You should keep in mind that these smaller sales generate cash flow and should not be overlooked.

 

The solution

Make sure that your business model supports a product or service pricing structure that provides your customers options. Consider a three-tiered approach that has low, medium and high price points. This will help your business capture all of the possible sales opportunities that it can.

 

  1. Not having the right processes and systems in place

Every single business, large or small, is dependent upon the systems and processes they have in place. Unfortunately, many businesses do not have the right processes and systems in place nor the formal structures to guide them.

 

The solution

Much like in the military, every single business needs to have a clear set of documented standard operating procedures or SOPs. These work well with a formal business plan to help identify and define how you will setup and run your entire business.

 

Some items to include in your SOP:

  • How to handle customer complaints
  • How to handle interviews
  • Onboarding new employees
  • Purchase order requests
  • Moving cash to the bank
  • Financial record keeping

 

  1. Not having a clear marketing message

Your business must have a clear marketing message that is relevant, compelling, and interesting to your prospective customers. If your business is lacking a clear marketing message, potential customers may people assume you do not understand or care about their needs and only want to make money from them. They will go elsewhere.

 

The solution

The best way to improve your overall marketing efforts is to create a dynamic message that solves a problem, meets a need, or fulfills a desire for your target customer. Our world today doesn’t appreciate the one-size-fits-all model of the past. Customers demand that a company caters to their specific needs. They also do not want to feel pushed into buying anything. As a small business, you need to figure out exactly what your target customers’ need and spend your marketing dollars educating or entertaining them with your offerings.

Strategies for After Holidays Business Lulls

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By Debbie Gregory.

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Once the holidays have officially ended, most small businesses face a significant drop in business. Generally, people are on vacation or saving to recover from their holiday gift spending from the middle of December through January.

 

Preparing for this lull in business can be challenging.   There are a few strategies that can help minimize the negative impact of the drop in sales and revenues. Below are a few ideas to help you save some money and possibly minimize the negative impacts of a slow business season:

 

Increase Social Media Posting:

Increasing your social media presence is always a great place to start when your business needs a boost. Social media is incredibly effective for reaching potential customers in your local area as well as helping you build overall brand recognition and trust.

 

Implement New Marketing Strategies:

If you are experience a slowdown in business, this might be an excellent time to re-evaluate your current marketing strategies to determine what has been and what has not been effective. Cut out any ineffective strategies and move forward with new ideas.

A few ideas to consider:

  • Improve or update your company website’s overall SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
  • Start new pay-per-click campaigns on social platforms or search engines
  • Start attending in-person marketing events
  • Sponsor relevant local events

 

Eliminate Any Unnecessary Expenses:

The start of the year is also a great time to review where your money goes and cut out any unnecessary expenses. This includes cutting out ineffective marketing programs that was addressed previously as well as reducing spending on office items that aren’t necessary as well as holding off hiring. Saving money is one of the best ways to help you bounce back from a lull in sales.

 

Revamp Your Pricing:

If you lowered your prices to be competitive and attract more customers before the holidays, this is the time to consider what your pricing strategies going forward now that the holidays are over.  Most small businesses simply go right back to their standard pricing but this might not be the best option if you still have a lot of holiday inventory on your hands. Consider staggering your price increases to sell off your surplus inventory.

 

If You Took Out a Loan Now is the Time for a Reasonable Repayment Plan:

If your business was one of the many that needed to take out a loan to have adequate cash flow through the holidays, now is a great time to establish a reasonable and affordable repayment plan with your loan provider.

 

The holiday season is always challenging before, during and after for a variety of reasons and this is especially true for small businesses. If you find that you are struggling to recover from the holidays you should seriously consider one or more of the above strategies to help you get back in your groove and recover.

 

By Debbie Gregory.

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VAMBOA and our team hopes that you have enjoyed Part 1 and Part 2 of this three-part series on Business Grants for Veterans and found it to be valuable.   Please let us know what you think because we value your input.  You can email us at info@vamboa.org.

 

Once you have your funding secured, either by grant or loan, you may still need some other business assistance. Below you can find some excellent resources for your Small Veteran Owned Business to utilize to start, learn, nurture, and grow your small business:

  • Boots to Business is a two-step program offered by the Small Business Administration (the SBA) offered on military installations around the world to introduce service members to entrepreneurship and the foundations needed to begin a business when they return home.
  • Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV)is a free program for post-9/11 vets and their spouses.
  • Patriot Boot Camp is a branch of the startup incubator: TechStars and is specifically for active duty military members and their spouses who want to gain entrepreneurial skills.
  • Service-Disabled Entrepreneurship Development Training Program offers between $50,000 and $150,000 as a grant to support organizations that deliver entrepreneurship training program(s) to service-disabled veteran entrepreneurs who want to become small business owners or who currently own a small business.
  • Small Business Administration (SBA) offers several veteran entrepreneurship training programs.
  • Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) is an SBA-funded program that offers online training, a conference and mentorship specifically to female veterans.
  • Veterans Business Services helps veterans acquire or start small business. Veteran Business Services offers assistance with franchising, marketing and with connecting you with financial services.
  • Veterans Business Resource Center offers business training for Veterans including help with understanding business plans, financials, marketing, sales, human resource management, and more. They also offer webinars and professional counseling.
  • Veterans Institute for Procurement (VIP)is an accelerator program with three specific offerings specifically designed for owners, principals, and C‐level executives of Veteran Owned Small Businesses and Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses SDVOSB).  Veterans Institute for Procurement (VIP) Grow helps companies develop overall strategies to operate and expand within the federal marketplace. VIP Start helps companies that want to get into the federal market and become procurement-ready. VIP International is for companies that want to enter or expand their federal and commercial contracting opportunities overseas.
  • VetsInTechis a private sector training program that offers tech related education opportunities, connections with tech jobs and workshops and bootcamps to help veteran startup founders boost and grow their businesses.

 

 

By Debbie Gregory.

LinkedIN Debbie Gregory VAMBOA VAMBOA Facebook VAMBOA Twitter

 

In addition to Federal small business grants, each state offers some good grant as well.   Please be mindful that state grants are a somewhat more specific and tend to provide less funding. The state grants generally require your company to match the dollar amount of the grant too. One of the major upsides to state grants is that less people apply for them, so there is a lot less competition to be awarded the grant.

 

Below are a few easy to find grants in your state as well as resources for loans in the event that grants will not work for you:

 

1.) Google Your State – The easiest way to find state grants is to simply open your browser and type in “[your state] small business grants” and see what comes up.

 

2.) Economic Development Administration (EDA) – You can also check your local Economic Development Administration (EDA) to learn about the small business services they offer. Most Economic Development Administrations offer help with grants, technical assistance and other resources to help small businesses grow.

 

3.) Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) – Your local Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) usually offer free business consulting and a variety of low-cost services such including:

  • 8(a) program support
  • Business plan development
  • Disaster recovery assistance
  • Exporting and importing support
  • Financial packaging and lending assistance
  • Healthcare guidance
  • Manufacturing assistance
  • Market research help
  • Procurement and contracting aid

 

4.) Government Business Loans – If you find that grants aren’t are not a viable option for your business or situation, you can always look at obtaining a loan for your financing needs. The Small Business Association (SBA) is well known for Veteran business loans. The two most popular are:

 

5.) Private Business Loans – Sometimes private loans, or peer-to-peer loans, are easier to obtain than Government loans. Below are two popular options specifically tailored for Veterans:

  • StreetShares– which is an online, peer-to-peer lending service that was started by veterans, for veterans. They offer small to medium sized loans with a range of interest rates and other options.
  • Hivers and Strivers– is an investment group that specifically invests in the early stage startups that are founded and run by graduates of U.S. Military Academies.

 

6.) Other sources to consider for funding:

  • Angel Investors
  • Borrow from Friends and Family
  • Crowdfunding
  • Private Investors
  • Venture Capital & Series Seed Funding

 

As you can see, there are several excellent options for Veteran Owned Small Businesses to find and obtain funding both in the form of grants you do not need to repay as well as loans that you do.

 

What if you need more assistance than simply funding? Our next article in this three part series will provide you some outstanding resources that you can utilize to nurture and grow your small business.  Stay tuned!

Business Grants for Veterans : Part 1 of 3

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By Debbie Gregory.

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Looking for a business grant? Are you a Veteran Owned Small Business? There are quite a few grants out there that are offered by a variety of institutions.   Grants are time sensitive and are open for a specific period and then they are no longer available.  It does not make sense to list grants in this article because by the time you read this article, they may no longer be available.  However, you certainly can find them!

 

This is a three part series on Business Grants for Veterans and Part 1 will detail a few good places to find grants and other financial assistance for your Veteran Owned Small Business. Please keep in mind that just because you don’t see a specific grant or site listed within this article, there are many other grants that you can locate by performing a comprehensive search with specific criteria that applies to you.  It may take some energy, research and time to locate the right grants and financing options but consider it a treasure hunt that will always be worth it to your Veteran Owned Business.

 

The best place to begin your search for grants is the Federal Government’s database for small business grants at.Grants.gov. You should check the site often as grant opportunities begin and end frequently. Once you have found a grant (or two) that will work for your needs, you need to determine your next steps.  Grants.gov provides a very clear and specific process for applying for grants.   Below are some specific areas that will assist you on their website:

  1. Learn about grants: Their learning page includes a brief instructional video to help guide you.
  2. Check eligibility: This page will help you determine whether or not your business is eligible to apply for a federal grant.
  3. Search grants: You can search for grants by keyword, opportunity number, as well as other criteria.
  4. Register: If you find a grant you would like to apply for you will need to register for an account.
  5. Apply for a grant: The apply page includes helpful videos on how to use the system to properly apply for your chosen grant.
  6. Track your application: This page gives you the ability to keep an eye on how your application is progressing.

 

If you are looking specifically for Research and Development (R&D) grants from the Federal Government, there are two other programs that you may wish to consider:

 

Even though Grants.gov is an outstanding resource to locate grants, the Federal Government is not the only place to look for grants for your Veteran Owned Small Business. Our next article in this series will cover specific state offered business grants that you should explore as well.   Stay tuned!

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