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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/ 

 

By Debbie Gregory.

LinkedIN Debbie Gregory VAMBOA VAMBOA Facebook VAMBOA Twitter

 

If you are looking to start a business, the odds are good that you will be looking for financing to get it off the ground. You can always apply for a loan or you can use your own personal credit cards or savings to fund your new business.  However, if you do not want to deal with debt, or you need to conserve your cash for another reason, you may want to consider applying for a grant.

There are quite a few small business grants out there offered by the government or nonprofit programs that you won’t be required to repay in the future. If your small business meets the criteria, you can apply and may receive the funding that you need.

Most grants are for specific business purposes or roles, so it is very important to understand the specifics of any small business grant you apply for. Do your research and become intimately involved with understanding the process and rules.

Is my business eligible for a small business grant?

Eligibility depends on quite a few factors, such as:

  • Your business owner category
  • The type of business you plan to open
  • The type of grant you are looking to apply for
  • The granting agency itself
  • The location of your business
  • More

For example, grants are set aside specifically for those with certain statuses, such as:

If you or your business falls into a special category, it may increase your grant eligibility.

What Government grants are available for small businesses?

There are several places you can check for small business grants awarded by the federal government. The most well-known is the Small Business Administration (SBA), which is typically known for small business loans. Though they also offer grants directly and in partnership with other organizations. Visit the SBA’s website for more information and eligibility requirements.

Other federal government agencies and state and local agencies to check include:

  • gov : This site gives a good overview of grants available, how to qualify and how to apply.
  • SBIR and STTR grants : “Small Business Innovation Research” (SBIR) and “Small Business Technology Transfer” (STTR) grants are for entrepreneurs focused on developing technology for consumer use.
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants: They provide grants to small businesses in biomedical technology research and development fields.
  • USDA Rural Development Business Grants (RDBG) grants: They offer technical assistance grants to small rural businesses and cooperatives.

What other grants are available?

There are plenty of non-government grants out there for small business owners for startup or certain types of business development. Here are a few to consider:

  • org: This site shares a wealth of accredited grant fund resources.
  • Visa Everywhere Initiative : This is an annual contest sponsored by Visa which awards up to 150,000 in prizes and global recognition.
  • FedEx Small Business Grant Contest : This contest is open to for-profit businesses that have been in business at least 6-months and have fewer than 99 employees. The award is up to $25,000 that the business can use for print and other business services.
  • Patagonia Corporate Grant Program : This program is for innovative nonprofit organizations, in specific geographic locations, who work to preserve the environment. The program awards between $20,000 and $30,000.

We invite you to stay tuned for Part 2 of this mini-series on Small Business Grants.  In Part 2, we will review the application process and more.

VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association, hopes that you have enjoyed these articles addressing Small Business Grants   We work very hard to bring our audience timely and valuable information.

VAMBOA does not charge members any dues or fees.  If you are not yet a member of VAMBOA, please join here:   https://vamboa.org/member-registration/

Members may use our seal on their web sites and collateral and will receive special discounts and other important information.

By Debbie Gregory.

In a small business, everyone who works there is valuable. So when a worker who serves in the National Guard or the Reserves gets called up, it can be a hardship for the business, whether it’s the owner, the CEO or an essential employee.

In an effort to help small businesses when this happens, Congressman Brad Schneider (D-IL) has introduced bipartisan legislation to improve existing Small Business Administration (SBA) programs offering loans and deferrals, which are currently underutilized due to a lack of awareness and because their eligibility restrictions do not fully reflect current deployment practices.

H.R. 7199, the National Guard and Reserve Entrepreneurship Act, would restructure these programs so that companies are eligible whenever a Guardsman is performing active services for more than 30 days, in contrast to current law which requires the Guardsman to be deployed “during a period of military conflict.”

The bill would also direct SBA to work with the National Guard and State Adjutant Generals to raise awareness of other SBA programs that would be helpful to Guardsmen or affected businesses, and to develop more targeted outreach.

The programs include:

• Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan (MREIDL), a direct loan program that provides emergency working capital to small businesses to meet their obligations until operations return to normal after the essential employee is released from active duty military

• Repayment Deferral for Active Duty Reservists (Repayment Deferral), which authorizes the SBA to work with private lenders to defer interest or loan repayment for small businesses facing similar situations.

“National Guard members and military reservists are an integral part of our armed forces and national defense,” said Schneider. “We should do everything we can to support their service. This bill makes current support programs at the SBA more accessible and efficient so more small businesses have support while members of their team fulfill their military service obligations.”

By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published new guidelines that took effect on October 1, 2018 for verification of Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (VOSBs) and Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSBs),

Under the changes, the VA continues to determine whether individuals are veterans or service-disabled veterans, and is responsible for verification of applicant firms for listing in the Vendor Information Pages (VIP) database.

Responsibility for adjudicating challenges of the status based upon issues of ownership and control is now to be determined by administrative judges at Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA).

These newly implemented rules are an attempt to resolve inconsistencies between SBA and VA regulations that have led to conflicting decisions about a company’s qualification for set-asides.

The standard for reviewing a VOSB or SDVOSB’s eligibility is “totality of the circumstances,” with the burden of proving eligibility falling on the applicant. Decisions based on an applicant’s failure to meet any veteran eligibility criteria are not subject to appeal; however, an applicant can re-apply and submit a new application six months after denial.

The changes also clarify the process for removal from the VIP database and expand the reasons for removal to include having tax liens and unresolved debts. Other removal criteria include being found guilty of or involved in criminally-related matters as well as debarment of any individual owning or controlling the business concern, as well as submitting false information to VA.

The VA is not providing an additional level of review, but merely acting on determinations issued by courts or other administrative bodies. Further, bankruptcy has been added as a changed circumstance that can lead to a contractor’s removal from the VIP database.

The new rules clearly define VA’s role in determining whether individuals are veterans or service-disabled veterans, and responsibility to determine the ownership interests of those individuals now ultimately falls on SBA, subject to appeal to OHA.

Funding for Veteran Business Owners

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According to the most recent census data, there are 2.45 million veteran-owned businesses in the U.S. Veteran entrepreneurs contribute to the economy through their businesses and their willingness to hire veterans.
There are a number of funding resources available to veterans in order to get their business off the ground, or expand an existing business.
• The Office of Veterans Business Development, through the Small Business Administration (SBA) supports new and existing veteran entrepreneurs and military spouses. The program offers a variety of training and financial services. The SBA Veterans Advantage Guaranteed Loans program offers loans of $150,000 or less with no guaranty fee. Larger loans carry a low guarantee fee. SBA Express Loans have no upfront borrower fee for eligible veterans and military spouses on loans up to $35,000. Leveraging Information and Networks to Access Capital matches businesses with SBA-approved non-profit lenders. The 7(a) Loan Program is the SBA’s most common loan program, and includes financial help for businesses with special requirements.
• The Department of Veteran Affairs is a great starting point when looking for financing, and has created the Veteran Entrepreneur Portal (VEP), which can help you quickly identify financing resources for your business.
• The Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan provide funds to eligible small businesses to meet necessary operating expenses that it could have met, but is unable to meet, because an owner/essential employee was “called-up” to active duty.
• The USDA Veteran and Minority Farmer Grant, run by the Department of Agriculture, aims to bring traditionally underserved people into farming through training and technical and financial assistance.
• The VetFran(R) program is designed to help veterans start their own business. While these aren’t traditional business loans for veterans, the program offers financial incentive for veterans to launch a franchise.
In addition to lending resources, don’t discount the value of networking resources. Who better to share advice than those who have walked the path before you?
• American Corporate Partners links veteran entrepreneurs with successful businesspeople for training and mentorship.
• National Veteran-Owned Business Association presents you with a great networking opportunity and the chance to learn much more about running a business.
• SCORE Foundation Veteran Fast Launch Initiative offers advertising, marketing and business mentoring, all at no cost.

• Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families provides entrepreneurial training. Their Entrepreneurial Bootcamp for Veterans program is free for post-9/11 veterans.
• Veterans Business Resource Center provides business consulting and mentoring.
• Veterans Business Services can assist in obtaining capital for your business.

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