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By Debbie Gregory.

When considering small business marketing ideas, the first thing you should think about is your audience. Who are they? What do they do? How can you help them do it better? Having adequate knowledge of your target audience helps make your marketing more effective and cost-efficient.

Establishing a buyer/user “persona” is vital to understanding your current customers and identifying potential future customers. This information allows you to produce what you need to meet the specific needs of your audience, be it products, services or content. Clickbait and countless sales pitches aren’t the way to gain trust from your network. Instead, make it your goal to reach your audience on a more personal level. Show them you understand them and care about their wants and needs.

To develop a good idea of who your customers/users are, you need to conduct market research. The best place to start is with your existing customers/users, and can be garnered from surveys, questionnaires and interviews. If you’re sending these requests out by email, make sure your emails are coming from a recognizable sender name, make sure the subject line tells the reader what’s in the email, and make sure the content is visually appealing with a clear call to action.

You can also utilize social media and in-person interviews. Offering a coupon or discount for their participation is a good incentive.

Be sure to analyze the data you collect to understand your ideal customer/user so that you’re in a better position to target your advertising campaigns effectively.

Additionally, use your website analytics to see where your visitors come from, the keywords they are using to find you, and what they’re doing on the site. This will give you further insights into your buyer/user persona.

Knowing your customer/user persona enables you to communicate with them more effectively, which should help you to grow your customer/user base, which in turn will grow your business.

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Owning your own business, being your own boss – it’s the American dream. You can see it every Friday night on Shark Tank, or in commercials for Small Business Saturdays. It’s no surprise that military veterans make excellent entrepreneurs because of the skills they gained while serving. And in a challenging economy when jobs for military veterans may be scarce, a great option for veterans is to start their own business.

Entrepreneurs can be at the helm of a mom & pop corner store, or a major corporation like Enterprise Rental Car or Starbucks. But just because you have many of the required skills to be an entrepreneur, that doesn’t guarantee success.

A military veteran benefit for entrepreneurs comes in the form of a boost from the VA when starting or growing a business. While everyone knows that a major veteran benefit is education for veterans, many may not know that the VA will pay for other programs. Education for veterans offered by Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), the most comprehensive small business assistance network in the United States, is one such program.

Entrepreneurship training through the SBDC allows eligible service members and veterans to use VA education benefits to take courses they offer. SBDCs can help you plan your veteran finances with business plan development, procurement, market research, lending assistance and more.

Those who are eligible to receive reimbursement for approved entrepreneurship courses include those eligible for any of the following VA Education Programs:

  • Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty
  • Montgomery GI Bill – Selected Reserve
  • Veterans’ Educational Assistance Program
  • The Post-9/11 GI Bill

For additional information on using your military veteran benefits with SBDCs, visit the VA Entrepreneurship Training Web page.

To locate course offerings near you, or view training opportunities on the web, contact the Small Business Development Center directly athttp://www.sba.gov/sbdc/ or by phone at 800-8 ASK SBA.

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Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious via photopin cc

Looking to start a business?

Or would you rather have a J-O-B… maybe that hobby would be fun, perhaps you can profit with that?

To clarify, hobbies, jobs, and startups are great ideas. Just be sure to approach them in the right way.

Webster’s Definitions:

Hobby – an interest outside one’s general occupation, particularly for unwinding.

JOB – routine work that someone does to earn a paycheck.

Business – a venture of making, purchasing, or offering products/services in return for money.

Can I turn my hobby into a business?

You can. But it won’t be your hobby any more. We all ought to have a diversion in life…something you do on special occasion or to relax.

I love awesome BBQ (like I’m the only one, right?). I love cooking it, hanging around the smoker and seeing it reach perfection.

However, imagine a scenario where I needed to get up each morning at 3am to put meat on the smoker and get everything prepared for my customers. Would I like it as much? Would it transform my enthusiasm into drudgery? Possibly.

Owning a BBQ smokehouse has around 22,418 more “jobs” to it than simply smoking some brisket from a lawn chair. I would need to have a full comprehension of the restaurant business before making my BBQ pastime into a business.

At that point I would need to get another hobby!

What if I make a business out of my current job?

Ok. Suppose you have killer welding abilities at the place you work at presently. Why not open a welding shop in your town and satisfy all their welding needs?

But your welding skills were just one part of your previous employers company. How did they attract customers? Who purchased the supplies? Who did the bookwork…managed the utilities?

You might need to trade in your welder’s helmet for the various business hats you’ll end up wearing. At that point, are you doing more jobs than the just the welding, at which you excelled?

But won’t I be more relaxed if I great my business like a hobby?

Sure…if by “relaxed” you mean “failed”. You just can’t run your business the same way you treat your hobby.

I took up biking and it cost me $300 for a used mountain bike. Fishing is fun and got a fly rod for Christmas last year. I purchase a few flies each time I go to Bass Pro.

However, I can stop fly fishing for a time and not have any effect on my salary, employment or business.

That’s the reason it’s a hobby… you don’t HAVE to do it.

And, in the event that you switch or stop a hobby,

you likely won’t miss a car payment.

You can start and stop hobbies often. Nobody will mind. Well maybe if you have 28 fly rods and only use them once every 4 years, your wife might comment on it! But that topic is for another day.

Run your business with intention. Create SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound). Define the jobs within the business and the people that should be doing them.

Organizations ought to be run diligently (with the proper time off for those hobbies). Try not to “wish” or “hope” things get completed… dole out every one of the tasks BEFORE you open for business. You’ll have enough surprises without making them yourself.

Brian Richardson runs VetLaunched.com. He helps veterans start their own business through coaching, training, classes and trusted resources. Pick up a copy of his unique resource list at www.VetLaunched.com.

VAMBOA: startup

By Debbie Gregory.

In what could be groundbreaking legislation, members of Congress are considering a bill that would allow Veterans to use their GI benefits to start businesses, rather than using them for a college education.

Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs member Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) is drafting the legislation, which could potentially lower the $1.4 billion the Pentagon spent in 2013 on unemployment for former military personnel.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, will introduce companion legislation in the Senate.

The idea has the backing of the military service organizations the American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and others.

The education benefit can be as much as $260,000 for four years at a private college or university. For Veterans who aren’t interested in attending college or transferring their benefits to a dependent, this would be a great option. It certainly is better than leaving the benefit on the table.

Congress has worked in the past to help veterans receive small business loans. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 was a similar law that allowed Veterans to buy a farm, home or business property. It expired in 1956.

Fortenberry’s bill would create a three-year pilot program for 100 eligible veterans each fiscal year. Participants would be able to use up to three years of educational benefits to start or purchase a qualified business.

Participating Veterans would have needed to serve three years of full-time active duty. If they left active duty due to a service related disability, the time period is reduced to 24 months. Veterans would be required to apply for the program no more than 15 years after leaving the service.

In order to move forward with the program, Veterans would have to attend a boots-to-business course at an accredited university. Another caveat is that they would have to have their business plans approved.

The business startup modification to the G.I. Bill would have to be drawn up with safeguards to ensure that veterans have a chance for success. Since most startup businesses fail, the G.I. Bill proposal would need guarantees that Veterans applying for the program would receive mentorship and training.

The Veteran and Military Business Owners Association (VAMBOA) is a non-profit business trade association that promotes and assists Veteran Business Owners, Service Disabled Veteran Owned Businesses (SDVOB) and Military Business Owners. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and responsible for job generation. That is why VAMBOA provides its members with Business CoachingContracting Opportunities, a Blog that provides information, Networking contacts and other resources. Membership is FREE to Veterans. Join Now!

VAMBOA: GI Benefits for Business Instead of Education?: By Debbie Gregory

business ownerBy Debbie Gregory.

Starting a business involves planning, making key financial decisions, and completing a series of legal activities. But for many Veterans, transitioning from service member to CEO may be a more natural path than they might have imagined.

Most experts agree that the two biggest components for Veterans preparing to start their own businesses are choosing the right kind of business for them, and securing capital. They also recommended that aspiring business owners take time to think about where their passion lies.

VetFran Manager George Eldridge encourages Veterans interested in business ownership to do their research and examine all possibilities.

“In the military you think, ‘I can’t fail,’ but sometimes you have to think about the risks you’re getting into and have a balanced expectation when getting into something like this,” he said.

Veterans who are considering franchise ownership may want to start by surfing VetFran’s website. With more than 100 different franchise industries to peruse, there is something for every interest. The most popular franchises are in the food industry, followed by hospitality, home-based businesses, child care and pet care.

Although VetFran does not offer funding, it connects Veterans with funding assistance by working closely with the SBA and lenders within its supplier group.

The SBA offers a checklist for Veterans interested in starting a business. It suggests starting with a business plan, which is like a roadmap to determine your starting point, where you are going, and how to arrive at success through proper planning, preparation and management. The checklist also covers things like licenses, tax ID numbers, taxes, finance, location, etc.

Financing opportunities are plentiful for Veterans. The SBA, through its 68 field offices around the U.S. and 1,000 resource partners, has Veterans Business Outreach Centers around the country offering information on how to gain access to capital.

For Veteran-specific programs, the SBA helps businesses obtain reduced loan fees for any loan under $350,000.

Leveraging Information and Networks to Access Capital (LINC) is an online tool that connects loan seekers and lenders. By answering just a few questions, applicants can reach out to lenders all over the country.

The Veteran and Military Business Owners Association (VAMBOA) is a non-profit business trade association that promotes and assists Veteran Business Owners, Service Disabled Veteran Owned Businesses (SDVOB) and Military Business Owners. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and responsible for job generation. That is why VAMBOA provides its members with Business Coaching, Contracting Opportunities, a Blog that provides information, Networking contacts and other resources. Membership is FREE to Veterans. Join Now!

VAMBOA: Ready to Start Your Own Business?: By Debbie Gregory

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