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The Value of a Business Mentor

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By Debbie Gregory

Once you launch your own business, there’s no boss to turn to for advice or direction when you need help.  There is not a playbook and having the benefit of someone who has “been there, done that,” otherwise known as a mentor, can be an invaluable resource.

Once you have a clear idea what you want and need from a mentor, it will be easier to find one who is a good fit for you.  

Your mentor will be taking on an incredibly important responsibility, so make sure he or she is up for the task. You want someone who will listen and advise and who is available when you need help and advice. You also want someone who will tell it straight and offer conversations that are constructive, respectful, and specific.

Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) are independent organizations that are funded by the Small Business Administration (SBA), state and local governments and resources from the private sector.  SBDC’s provide resources for entrepreneurs. Additionally, SCORE, the nation’s largest network of volunteers and expert business mentors, offers free face-to-face meetings with one of their mentors to discuss your business ideas. There are currently 320 chapters throughout the U.S. with over 11,000 volunteers.

Another option for finding a mentor involves participating in social events. By attending conferences, speaking events and networking events, you will learn more about your industry and meet the people who are already established in it.   These people make excellent mentors.

Startup incubators thrive on brainstorming and locating these incubators and asking if you can drop in may be a win-win for you and your business.

The reason LinkedIn was launched was to broaden business networks between prospects, customers, suppliers, distributors, consultants, funding sources and analysts, so don’t overlook those in your network and their contacts.   Linked In is a wonderful way to network and expand your connections in many areas.

People who run companies within your industry who target a different segment or location of the market may also be willing to help you.

Successful business owners know what they don’t know. Mentors can help you overcome those obstacles. Once you have your business running smoothly, you may be able to pay it forward, and you can volunteer to become a mentor yourself.

Veteran and Military Business Owners Association, VAMBOA,

 

 

Veteran Entrepreneurs Who Rock It!

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By Debbie Gregory.

It is becoming more and more common for veterans to leave the battlefield and enter the world of entrepreneurship. This article will introduce a few outstanding veteran entrepreneurs.   They set a high bar.

  • U.S. Marine Corps veteran Travis McVey of Heroes Vodka combines being a veteran entrepreneur with a commitment to support his fellow veterans. Heroes Vodka was first bottled on Veteran’s Day, 11.11.11. As the “Official Spirit of a Grateful Nation,” the mission of Heroes Vodka is to deliver exceptional taste and superior value to consumers, while honoring veterans and other American service organizations through charitable contributions. McVey donates a portion of all sales to AMVETS. 
  • U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Nick Taranto, founded Plated, a meal delivery service that offers healthy, affordable, and delicious food. The service, which was acquired by Albertson’s Grocery Stores, delivers boxed chef-designed dinners that can be prepared at home in around thirty minutes. 
  • U.S. Navy veteran, Brandon Buttrey founded Counterstrike Coffee Buttrey reflected on his time in the service when coffee was highly valued and enabled servicemembers to better function. He knew that if he designed a military/veteran friendly coffee brand, he would have some serious customers. Counterstrike Coffee offers pre-packaged coffee in both whole bean or ground form. A portion of the proceeds goes to the veteran warfighter community. 
  • Michael J. Penney is the co-founder of Cigars and Sea Stories, a podcast devoted to sharing stories with veterans who are adding value to the world. In March of 2016 he presented at TEDxRaleigh, “What’s Your IED: How to Add Value During Life’s Explosive Situations”, combining military and personal experiences to bridge the lives of veterans and civilians. Penney is the creator of the “5 Paragraph Business Plan” – taking the military operations order format and applying it to business. 
  • Few entrepreneurs can say they founded an internet business that grew from zero to a billion dollars in revenue. Chuck Wallace is one of those rare entrepreneurs. In 1999, Wallace co-founded eSurance, a company that not only survived the bubble burst, but thrived and provides a quick and easy way to purchase insurance.  Before starting eSurance, Wallace was a U.S. Air Force pilot who taught undergraduates to fly.

Veteran and Military Business Owners Association, VAMBOA,

 

Common Mistakes Veteran Business Owners Should Avoid

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By Debbie Gregory.

At VAMBOA, we salute the entrepreneurial drive that members of the military and military veterans display. Managing risk, operating with limited resources and working well under pressure are skills learned during military service that serve you well as you start your business.

But regardless of your preparation, it is inevitable that you will make some mistakes. Here are some common pitfalls and ways to avoid them:

  • Failing to Have a Plan– Without a business plan to guide your startup and growth, you’ll struggle to make decisions, obtain loans, or bring investors on board. The solution is easy- have a plan. Venturing out on your own requires ambition and a willingness to take risks.   Remember that you need to have a plan for how you’re going to make money. A written plan helps you stay focused on the right customers, opportunities and business objectives and on course. There are many tools available online to guide you through the process of writing your business plan.
  • Failing to Define Your Purpose– Many businesses never define their real purpose for existence. Americans want to give back to those who serve, so make sure your military/veteran status is front and center. If you give back a percentage of your profits to a cause, promote that! Let your clients know your mission.
  • Failing to Understand your Customers– It is not enough to have a good idea. Make sure you conduct market research to pinpoint your ideal target customers, and then create dynamic messages that solve a problem, meet a need, or fulfill a desire.
  • Waiting to Long to Hire Employees or Hiring the Wrong Ones – Are you trying to save money, or do you just not want to delegate anything? Both of those will cost you in the long run. The greatest mistake entrepreneurs make is to believe they can do it all by themselves. Hire carefully and thoughtfully. Don’t wait until you are desperate for help. Delegate small tasks or outsource the tasks you need help with until the right team is in place.   Hire people who can grow with your business.
  • Losing Focus of your Cash Flow – Finding small business financing can be time-consuming, and if you wait until you really need the money, you may be forced to settle for more expensive options. Stay on top of your cash flow and keep in mind that applying for financing while your business finances are in good shape will increase your chances of approval.

In summary:

  • Have a Plan
  • Have a Purpose
  • Understand Your Clients
  • Hire the Right Employees at the Right Time
  • Focus on Your Cash Flow

Once done with these key steps – you will then be well on your way at optimizing your business and avoiding common mistakes!

Veteran and Military Business Owners Association, VAMBOA,

 

Legislation:   End U.S. Presence In Afghanistan & Give GWOT Vets $2,500 Bonus

Sens. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, and Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, introduced the bipartisan American Forces Going Home After Noble (AFGHAN) Service Act to “honor the volunteers who bravely serve our nation by providing bonuses to those who have deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism, and redirect the savings from ending nation-building in Afghanistan to America’s needs at home,” according to an announcement.

If passed, the AFGHAN Service Act would also permanently end America’s involvement in Afghanistan and overturn the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, said the lawmakers, who serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

I believe that in addition to any bonus there should be resources to expedite the benefits those who have served have earned instead of waiting for them to be approved that can often be a long process too.

The question to everyone and please let us know what you think is:  Do you think we can end our military presence and involvement in Afghanistan? 

 

 

E-commerce Tips

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E-commerce Tips

By Debbie Gregory.

Many veteran business owners and VAMBOA members began their entrepreneurial journey by launching E-commerce websites. E-commerce, short for electronic commerce, is also known as internet commerce and refers to the buying and selling of goods or services via the internet, as well as the transfer of money and data to execute these transactions.

With global retail E-commerce sales are projected to reach $27 trillion by 2020 so you can see why this is such an attractive way to begin a business. But before entrepreneurs jump into the water, here are a few tips to aid in the success of an E-commerce business:

It begins with reaching your audience. If you’re looking to do business online, that’s where you are going to find the majority of your customers. So purchase your domain name, design your web site and set up your social media accounts. Blog, blog, blog. Add a podcast. Optimize your store for mobile.

If you aren’t great with technology, outsource the things you need help with. For example, when your customer adds a product to their cart, does your web site immediately let them know what others products previous purchasers have added-on as a suggested bundle? If a customer is about to abandon their cart, does your website know how to entice them back? If you don’t know how to build in these options, outsource them to someone who does.

Because you are at a disadvantage when it comes to your customers being able to see and touch (and smell) your product in-person, offer incentives such as free shipping or a money back guarantee if it makes financial sense to do so. Encourage your existing customers to leave reviews of your products by offering a percentage discount on their purchase to thank them for their time.

Start building a sales funnel. Think “Do you want fries with that order?” If your customer comes in for one thing, you’re going to ask if they’d like anything else before they cash out.

The more value you add — through freebies, up sells, and add-ons — the more trust you’ll build with your customers, and customers who trust you will spend more.

Building a good relationship with your customers will increase the chances that they will refer others to you, boosting your business even further.

Veteran and Military Business Owners Association, VAMBOA,

 

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