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By James Pruitt, Senior Staff Writer

Who knew? Labor and supply shortages are creating havoc and cursing small businesses now more than ever, especially in the wake of reopening. Behemoths such as Amazon and Walmart have their safety nets. Smaller establishments must struggle with what they have. As a result, gaps in service plague the reputations and growth of their smaller counterparts.

Unfortunately for Veteran Business Owners, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 8.1 million job openings at the end of March, a new record. The pandemic only exacerbated a preexisting trend, and the reasons vary. 

Suggestions have included a lack of training opportunities, supercharged unemployment benefits, a mismatched skill set, and fear due to the pandemic for many. Whatever the cause, a shortage of qualified workers has left employers in the lurch despite a continuously shrinking workforce.

Gaps in service are a result, often leaving angry customers. This anger often shows up online. These days, an online presence can make or break a company. Angry reviews can pose real threats to a struggling business.

The trend nowadays is for buyers overwhelmingly to check their business’ online presence. How can business owners minimize angry diatribes on forums such as Yelp, Bing, Google My Business, and Facebook? Small employers are finding themselves trapped between the rock of the labor shortage and the hard place of customer satisfaction. The best short-term fix is better communication.

Business owners should build trust with their client base. Patrons should understand that they can work with the management of a company. These kinds of positive working relationships best protect smaller businesses from online reputational issues, which may leave business owners feeling helpless in their marketing efforts. Good working relationships often rest on a foundation of good communication, one of the variables that managers may control in this economic environment.

Methods of communication may vary. Updating profiles on relevant online business platforms is an easy first step. The business’s profiles on the above online platforms should provide up-to-date hours and terms of service. When possible, these sites should also include explanations for any changes in these terms. Additionally, a business owner should address any negative reviews directly as soon as possible.

Some verbal strategies can improve the outcome of discussions with a dissatisfied customer. For example, first, the person in charge should remain calm during a confrontation. Second, active listening can demonstrate that the manager understands the grievance.  Active listening methods generally emphasize engagement in the discussion. In other words, managers should not remain passive targets in these matters. One such technique may involve rephrasing the complaints in a manner that demonstrates a genuine understanding of the customer’s issues with their service. 

Finally, management should demonstrate their understanding of the weight of the problem and if possible, let the customer know the relevant steps for resolving such issues in the future.

Early communication with dissatisfied customers may prevent escalation or even an angry Yelp review. Overall, the goal is a synergy between the needs of the client and the capacities of the owner. During these novel times, business owners should engage any necessary communication techniques to achieve a meeting of the minds that leaves all parties satisfied and at peace.

VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association hopes that this article has not only been valuable but provided some unique perspective.  We work hard to bring you important, positive, helpful, and timely information and are the “go to” online venue for Veteran and Military Business Owners.  VAMBOA is a non-profit trade association.   We do not charge members any dues or fees and members can also use our seal on their collateral and website.   If you are not yet a member, you can register here:  

https://vamboa.org/member-registration/

We also invite you to check us out on social media too.

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/vamboa

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/VAMBOA

Do not forget that VAMBOA members receive significant discounts on technology needs.   Check them out here: https://vamboa.org/dell-technologies/ 

Self-Marketing for Entrepreneurs

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By James Pruitt, Senior Staff Writer

Marketing is its own field within the business world. Specialists in marketing often come out of school with vast coursework and little experience. The generalities acquired by “professional marketers” often fail entrepreneurs seeking their niche in the economy. 

Every company is different. Each entrepreneur likely has their own set of values, as well as their own understanding of the niche of the economy they seek to occupy. Outsiders may provide guidelines and principles, but the core of a marketing strategy must come from the source of the business idea itself. Successful marketing ultimately comes from within.

Remember the sitcom Family Ties from the eighties? Consider the episode “The Spirit of Columbus.” In a classic standoff between money-obsessed Alex P. Keaton and his opposite, the artist Nick, Alex usurps Nick’s greatest artistic triumph and markets the sculpture “in volume” as home decor. In several fabulous colors to boot. 

These days, marketers rely largely on online strategies. Professional marketers know the web, social media, and other such channels. Entrepreneurs know their own hearts and the goals of their companies. Efforts of marketers fall impotent absent coordination with the leadership of their clients. Consider the ongoing lament of online gamers in the face of recent waves of offbeat, sometimes offensive marketing campaigns. “Why do they do this? The game is nothing like that!”

Entrepreneurs do their best to market themselves, often with advice from ad agencies. Marketers should stick to their roles. These days, marketers do have irreplaceable functions on the online and social media fronts. However, unless the marketer and entrepreneur are one and the same, no one can sell that great idea better than its originator. A marketer can filter the idea. A marketer can find the right channels. However, no one can express the idea’s heart and soul better than the entrepreneur themself.

There are strategies that business owners can use to market themselves. First, no matter the niche product or service, business owners should make their outreach efforts personable. Sometimes, a little creativity can liven up not only the brand but even the lives of its patrons. Perhaps the Michelin man can be an example. The iconic 120-year-old character is as old as the company itself. Over the years he has evolved from grease-monkey to symbol of fine dining. The Michelin brothers needed no marketing agency to accomplish that.

Second, entrepreneurs should ensure focus on their fundamental message. Marketing ideas should have organic roots in the core ideas of the company. Whatever the original focus of a business venture, a marketing campaign should beam this inspiration into their target clientele with laser intensity. A “meeting of the minds” does wonders between owners and clientele, at least in the early stages. Third-party marketers have the potential to complicate this process. Business owners should always stay in control of their message, at least until the enterprise diversifies and becomes too complex.

In the end, business owners should never allow third parties to market their idea in far-off directions, at least in the early stages. Marketers have their place and their own expertise, especially in the age of social media and other forms of online exposure. However, while the business owner provides the capital, the business owner provides the leadership. When the visionary separates from the vision, only broken dreams loom on the horizon.

VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association hope that this article has not only been valuable but provided some unique perspective.  We work hard to bring you important, positive, helpful, and timely information and are the “go-to” online venue for Veteran and Military Business Owners.  VAMBOA is a non-profit trade association.   We do not charge members any dues or fees and members can also use our seal on their collateral and website.   If you are not yet a member, you can register here:  https://vamboa.org/member-registration/

We also invite you to check us out on social media too.

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/vamboa

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/VAMBOA

Do not forget that VAMBOA members receive significant discounts on technology needs.   Check them out here: https://vamboa.org/dell-technologies/ 

Psychological Barriers to Starting a New Business

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By James Pruitt, Senior Staff Writer

Veteran Business Owners have a right and a responsibility to market their talents and skills. Successful paths are myriad, as are roadblocks. Many of these roadblocks are psychological. Here is a list of some of the most common misconceptions veterans often have that impede their paths to running a successful business.

1) “I don’t have the resources.”

A Veteran Business Owner need not invest unwieldy amounts of cash or resources to carve out a place in the economy. “Start small” is often the best strategy. Your best resource is yourself. 

A new business can start with meager resources, assuming a good concept. Good planning conceivably may keep the dream alive. 

Consider Sophia Amoruso, founder of the fashion company Girlboss Media. She literally started her fashion company browsing secondhand stores, selling her finds on her Myspace site. Also consider Khan Academy. Sal Khan’s company evolved from tutoring sessions he provided a family member. Other family members showed interest in his lesson plans for themselves, and thus his company turned into a marketable idea.

Marketable ideas often stare potential entrepreneurs in the face for years before they spark inspiration. Often, these ideas require little to no investment at the outset. Consider your talents, hobbies, surrounding circumstances, and social connections. Good ideas are often free and can sow fertile seeds that lead to rich fruits over time.

2) “I can’t do it,” aka “Imposter Syndrome.”

When lightning strikes, and you have a great business idea, one natural reaction might be some variant of “I can’t do it.” 

If an entrepreneur needs affirmation, online communities can frequently offer support, a sounding board, or at least ideas for development. In the end, remember that nothing can take away your relevance to the world around you.

However, “imposter syndrome” is nothing new. Consider Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and his comment “[v]ery few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe they are now qualified to be CEO.”  Also, Consider Sonia Sotomayor, and her quote “I have spent my years since Princeton, while at law school and at various professional jobs, not feeling a part of the worlds I inhabit.” The best and brightest of us often suffer from self-doubt. Often these doubts are simply an indication that we have the wisdom to know what we don’t know. 

3) I’ll Fail

Failure is inevitable in business and in life. The first failure can lead to greater success in later attempts. Everyone who lives fails. Frederick W. Smith’s first service, Zapmail, cratered before Fedex could focus on his core concept. Similarly, Amazon took years to turn a profit

Of course, no one wants to fail big. Not everyone has $350 million to burn, as did FedEx. However, the early failures serve as necessary steppingstones to creating a well-oiled machine. Failures of all kinds, whether administrative errors, operations inefficiencies, and hiring mistakes, are necessary to design an enterprise that fits well into the economy. Depending on resources such as financing and social support, slow and steady may win the race. 

4) “The Timing isn’t Right”

Consider a spore in your garden that may sprout hundreds of plants. The most inopportune times may give rise to the perfect storm to get your idea going

Even mulling the idea in your own head can become your own stress relief exercise. The smallest measures can build inertia. Building a web presence, for example, you can start with little effort and adapt to a changing schedule. Your relationship with your idea can morph gradually as it takes on a greater part of your life. Short of huge commitments, there is no wrong time to get started on a business idea.

 

VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association hope that this article has not only been valuable but provided some unique perspective.  We work hard to bring you important, positive, helpful, and timely information and are the “go-to” online venue for Veteran and Military Business Owners.  VAMBOA is a non-profit trade association.   We do not charge members any dues or fees and members can also use our seal on their collateral and website.   If you are not yet a member, you can register here:  

https://vamboa.org/member-registration/

We also invite you to check us out on social media too.

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/vamboa

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/VAMBOA

Do not forget that VAMBOA members receive significant discounts on technology needs.   Check them out here:

https://vamboa.org/dell-technologies/ 

Pricing to Stay Competitive

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By James Pruitt, Senior Staff Writer

Inflation has become a growing concern as cash has flowed into consumer’s hands following the outset of coronavirus. In theory, businesses should increase prices, especially as labor becomes more expensive. In fact, the economy is more chaotic and unpredictable. Business owners should consider sound realities before they jump to conclusions about how to price their products in the post-pandemic economy.

As discussed in previous blog posts, the pandemic sent the trend toward online consumerism into overdrive. Consumers know they can now resort to online sources that maintain a low overhead. This development bodes poorly for “brick and mortar” stores. Unfortunately for such establishments, the balance of power may continue to shift in the direction of online consumers.

What can a small business owner just out of the military and looking to apply their newfound skills do, especially in this strange new economy? Fortunately, many strategies can simplify marketing efforts.

  • First, human interactions, in general, have become more online over the past few decades. The possible end of the Pandemic will not change this trajectory. During the Pandemic, online interactions only became more sophisticated and established. websites and social media have only gained importance. Every economic participant, including veteran business owners, should become more Internet savvy. 
  • Second, unpredictable shifts in price can leave entrepreneurs unprepared. Given confusing shifts in the economy, business owners should understand current market circumstances in the here and now. For this reason, entrepreneurs should stay vigilant about direct competitors. Confusion may arise from assumptions and inaccurate predictions from the media. Mindfulness about the here and now should prevail.

“Staying vigilant” does not mean cutthroat behavior. “Staying vigilant” means an understanding of a ballpark range for goods and services catering to your specific clientele. Everyone benefits from some level of cooperation. Consider networking groups or your local Chamber of Commerce. Of course, backstabbing tactics only draw the worst kinds of attention.

Learning spreadsheets can help new business owners compare themselves most accurately to rivals in the current, uncharted online market. Microsoft Excel, as well as Apple Numbers and Google Sheets, may provide tools to compare prices with similar online marketers. 

  • Third, new business owners should consider their own costs and capacities. Many analysts divide these costs between variable and fixed costs. “Variable” costs shift with demand and changes in the economy. “Fixed” costs may include contractual obligations such as overhead, payroll, and the costs of maintaining websites. The goals and resources of the business owner may determine the outcome.
  • Fourth, consider profit margin and your own economic needs. Profit margin tends to vary by industry. Usually, profit margin consists of the difference between the cost of maintenance and the income from sales. Great damage can occur when the owner has invested heavily in the business, and profit margins stay low. A home business may need only a low-profit margin, and a restaurant or auto shop inevitably requires a much higher one, due to the cost of equipment.
  • Fifth, underpricing may ruin a business. Many entrepreneurs try to achieve brand recognition through discounts, sales, and cheap products. Misguided attempts at market penetration can leave consumers turning their noses when entrepreneurs need to raise prices to simply pay the bills. 

In short, pricing depends largely on the circumstances of the business owner. Generally, higher investments in overhead and equipment necessitate much more careful analysis. Always, the best price for a product or service depends on the relevant market. Hairbrained schemes such as underpricing rarely serve anyone. Veteran Business Owners need to balance their own circumstances and those of any other market participants, including clients and competitors. 

VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association hope that this article has not only been valuable but provided some unique perspective.  We work hard to bring you important, positive, helpful, and timely information and are the “go-to” online venue for Veteran and Military Business Owners.  VAMBOA is a non-profit trade association.   We do not charge members any dues or fees and members can also use our seal on their collateral and website.   If you are not yet a member, you can register here:  

https://vamboa.org/member-registration/

We also invite you to check us out on social media too.

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/vamboa

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/VAMBOA

Do not forget that VAMBOA members receive significant discounts on technology needs.   Check them out here:

https://vamboa.org/dell-technologies/ 

 

Conduct a SWOT Analysis

By Debbie Gregory.

Gather Your Team

Gather a group of people from all areas of the company to perform the SWOT to ensure different perspectives. The sales team will have a different outlook than the marketing team or the engineering team. You can even pull in people from outside of the company to provide input as a customer or vendor. A SWOT analysis is very similar to a brainstorming meeting so the more creative and fun, the better the ideas you will receive from everyone involved.

You can begin by selecting one of the four sections and having everyone jot ideas down on post-it notes, then stick them to a large piece of paper on the wall. Organize them and then rank them by having the team vote on the ideas presented. You can stick colored dots to the post-its or place tally mark them. This way you can get a clear picture of what the company needs to focus on and how they should be prioritized. This should be done for each part of the SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

After you have completed this part it is a good idea to discuss and debate each point further to make sure you have a clear path forward.

Questions To Help:

Strengths:  Internal factors that are in our control and are positive.

  • What are our assets (people, education, reputation, skills, etc)?
  • What are our physical assets (customers, location, equipment, patents, cash flow, etc)?
  • What do we provide that our competition does not?
  • What do our customers love about us?

Weaknesses:  Internal factors that need improvement.

  • What do our customers complain about our products or services?
  • Are we missing any key personnel?
  • Are we missing any key equipment that would make our company more attractive to customers?
  • Is there something we should be doing that we are not?

OpportunitiesExternal factors we have some control over.

  • What do our customers think of us? What is our reputation?
  • Are there any events we should be attending?
  • Is our market growing?
  • Are there any changes in regulations that might help us better serve our customers?

Threats:  External factors we have no control over.

  • Is our market shrinking?
  • Are our offerings outdated?
  • Is our market being flooded with new competition?
  • Are the costs of running the business going up?

 Next Steps

Once you have completed your SWOT analysis you are ready to put your strategy to work. Analyze your Strengths and make a plan to ensure you can take advantage of your Opportunities; as well as look at how your Strengths can overcome your Threats. Look at your Weaknesses and lay out a plan to work those out or minimize their impact on your business.

With an action list in hand, grab a calendar and place goals on it. What do you want to accomplish in a given week, month, quarter, and/or year? Make sure that your goals are clearly laid out, with specific deadlines, and make sure that they are reasonable and achievable. It is best to regularly check and make sure you are on track.

Your SWOT analysis will provide you a clear picture of your current abilities, the areas where you need to work on things, threats facing you in the market, and ways to take advantage of potential avenues for sales or increased revenue.

Veteran and Military Business Owners Association, VAMBOA,

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