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Best Crowdfunding Sites for Small Businesses

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By Debbie Gregory.

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If you need to raise money for your small business, there are several viable options available that are not your traditional bank loans.  One good one is Crowdfunding.    Crowdfunding easily allows a diverse set of people to invest in your business, idea, or project.

The Internet has many Crowdfunding sites and it can be confusing and challenging to find the right one to fit your needs.  VAMBOA staff has researched some of the best crowdfunding sites in 2020 and they are below in alphabetical order:

Chuffed 

This platform is exclusively for non-profit or cause-based organizations and is focused at funding projects that help animals, the environment, or your community. This platform has funded approximately 8,000 campaigns which have collectively raised over $18 million dollars.

Crowd Supply 

This platform’s mission is to “bring original, useful, respectful hardware to life.” So far over 70% of all projects on their site have been successfully funded and twice more than Kickstarter. Regardless of what business you are in, or what project you wish to bring to life, from a simple family recipe to a complicated electronic device, Crowd Supply can assist you in making your dream into a reality.

Crowdfunder 

This platform offers equity crowdfunding that translates into selling shares of your company to accredited investors. Currently they boast a community of over 200,000 entrepreneurs and investors.   They have raised over $150 million dollars in capital to help any business from startups to Pre-Seed to Series A companies.

Experiment 

This platform’s goal is funding scientific discoveries that “push the boundaries of knowledge.” The main focus is to help scientists move away from university grants that have a high overhead cost of as much as 50 percent to 60 percent.

Fundable 

This platform offers two different programs. One option is for consumer businesses helps them raise capital for products, pre-orders, or selling merchandise. There is a $50,000 capital limit. The other is an equity program for products, services, or B2B business. This option allows the company to raise a huge range of from $50,000 to $10 million dollars.

Fundly 

This platform allows you to “raise money for anything” with zero raise requirements and zero startup fees involved. They will fund any project from personal health needs, to politics, and even vacations.

GoFundMe

This platform is for raising money for a cause including a person, a group, or nonprofit.

Kickstarter 

This platform is perhaps one of the most widely known crowdfunding sites today.  You can raise money for anything you wish. The only stipulation is that you must meet your funding goal within the allotted timeframe. Otherwise the project is not funded, and the backers receive their funds back.  To date, they have helped well over 15 million people raise over $3.7 billion to successfully fund more than 143,000 projects.

Indiegogo 

This platform offers both live crowdfunding campaigns and a full marketplace for innovative products. They are the sister platform to the popular GoFundMe platform. With Indiegogo, you can also choose whether your backers receive equity, securities, revenue sharing, or even cryptocurrency. To date, they have helped entrepreneurs raise over $1 billion dollars to fund more than 650,000 projects.

LendingClub 

This platform will connect a borrower with an investor for a personal loan of up to $40,000 dollars or business loans up $300,000 dollars. This one is really recommended for large, one-time expenses. The investor purchases a note that corresponds to a fraction of the loan in exchange for a solid return.

Patreon  (not to be mistaken with my favorite tequila, Patron)

This platform helps artists, musicians, writers, and other creative types obtain funds by running a membership business for their fans. The revenue comes from the fans paying a subscription fee in exchange for exclusive experiences and behind the scenes content.

WeFunder 

This platform focused on any small business, from a small restaurant to tech startups. They currently have over 150,000 investors and campaigns can raise anywhere from $50,000 to $50 million dollars.

SeedInvest 

This platform is focused on high-growth, professional and early-stage companies to raise either preferred equity or convertible note funding.

Keep in mind that each of these platforms has a different pricing structure and different fees.   VAMBOA is not endorsing any of these Crowdfunding sites but providing information.  We encourage our audience to refer to please each platform’s site for more information on what they charge to raise capital for your business or idea.

If you are not already a VAMBOA member, please consider joining.  There are not any fees or dues.    We will also provide you our seal to feature on your web site and collateral.  Here is a link to join:   https://vamboa.org/contact-us/

Customer Reviews & Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

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By Debbie Gregory.

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Good customer reviews can truly improve your revenues and small Veteran Owned Business.   When we are evaluating a new product, service, or website to make a purchase, most of us look over reviews to learn more before hitting the purchase button.  Every type of business needs good reviews.   Did you know that they can also improve your Search Engine Optimization known as SEO?   Good reviews and Search Engine Optimization or SEO work together to provide your business maximum benefits.

Search Engine Optimization or SEO is the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine.  In simple terms, search engine optimization is anything done to improve the ranking of a website on search engine page results.   The better your rankings, the more people and users will be able to find your Small Veteran Owned Business.   The web provides you a huge base of potential customers. The key to obtaining greater traffic and bringing potential customers to your website and business is integrating content with search engine optimization.  Revies, especially good ones are excellent content.

You might compare a customer review to a report card or grade.  It can tell potential customers all about your products, services, and business.   A good review can encourage more business and a poor review can make potential customers turn away.   If you have good reviews with four and five stars, then potential clients will also be willing to pay more and order greater quantities for your products.

Buying decisions are driven by customer reviews.   Did you know that over 90 percent of shoppers read reviews online before making any type of purchase?  Over 70 percent will not take any action until they read a review on your business.   Your reviews are tied to your success.  Your online reputation is very important and even more so now during this pandemic when so many consumers are purchasing products and services online.   It does not matter what your business markets, your online reviews will make the difference on whether a potential client makes a purchase with your company.  It will directly drive your success or failure.

More and more consumers are relying on search engines such as Google and expecting the highest-rated products or services to come up in their results from the best companies.  Google and other search engines need customer reviews to determine if a particular business is deserving of the highest search results.  This is how customer reviews and Search Engine Optimization, or SEO go hand in hand.   It is also important for you to reply to customer reviews.   We highly recommend that you create a Google My Business Profile.

It is important to ask your customers to review you on Google, especially happy and satisfied customers.  Perhaps you are shy and find it a little difficult or uncomfortable to ask for a customer reviews on Google.  Get over it!  More than likely your customer is happy to do so and if they decline, another customer will.

The best time to ask a customer for a review is when your customers or clients are very happy with the services or products that you provide.   You should ask all happy customers to write a review because the more positive reviews you have on Google, Yelp, or other search engines, the more you will be indexed and gain new clientele.    Maybe even offer happy customers a discount on their next purchase to show your appreciation.  It is always important to thank customers for good reviews too.

The best way to collect review is to set up a custom branded review landing page.   There is review management software.    The ten best we were able to find are:

  • Podium
  • myPracticeReputation
  • Rize Reviews
  • Swell,
  • Birdeye
  • Reviewinc
  • Yext
  • Get More Reviews
  • Doctible
  • MyReviewDashboard

Each offers specialized services such as its own personalized landing page with a dedicated URL to help you grow your customer reviews.

VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association hopes you enjoyed this article and found it valuable to your business.  We encourage you to join VAMBOA.  There are not any membership fees or dues.   Here is a link for you to join:  https://vamboa.org/member-registration/

Question to Avoid Asking Prospective Employees

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By James Pruitt– Staff Writer

The interview process should strike a balance. On one hand, employers must vet potential hires fairly and accurately. On the other, questions about race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, national identity, family status, age, disability, or even genetics can land a potential employer in hot water, as well as alienate some of the best talent.

The EEOC (https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/index.cfm) provides guidelines that offer protection from sensitive situations. While new employers must necessarily find the right “fit,” certain guidelines can keep your organization out of legal and ethical hot water. There are several rules of thumb that can help interviewers avoid murky waters.

Mindfulness is important with personal banter in initial contacts with the potential hire. and relevance is key. The characteristics and circumstances of the employee only really matter in so far as they relate to the job itself and the tasks at hand. Employers should avoid direct questions when other avenues for inquiry are available.  Most importantly, employers should stay frank about which skills and characteristics are necessary for the job itself.

As a guideline to ensuring a fair interview process, certain specific questions can be pinpointed as hazardous to an employer’s relationship with the EEOC. The following seven common interview questions can land prospective employers in hot water.

First:  Interviewers should avoid questions about graduation dates. Some local employers may seep into innocent banter with such a subject, especially with a shared alma mater. However, other employers may use this question for discriminatory purposes. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits interview questions that seek to discern age. Such questions must be avoided.

Second: Questions about legal troubles must stay relevant. Of course, employers need to ask certain questions to ensure a safe and functional workplace. For example, generally, convictions for fraud are relevant for workers who handle money. However, a past conviction for a low-level drug offense may not be relevant for a cashier or warehouse position. Consider the link between the offense and the actual duties.

Third:  Questions about family can lead an employer down a tricky path. Despite the temptation to slip into personal banter in an initial encounter, questions about marital status or family size can leave an employer at risk for an EEOC challenge.

Fourth:  Interviewers should avoid questions or remarks about company culture that relate to age. This can cast a broad net. Some specifics that commonly relate to company culture involve the prospect of having a boss, medical leave and family issues. Leading questions that may entrap candidates into admitting the responsibilities and burdens of an older worker are best avoided.

Fifth:  If the interviewer notices an accent, this is best kept to oneself. In fact, employers should leave geographical origin out of the interview process in general. Such questions may relate to race or national origin.

Sixth:   Use caution about questions regarding salary history. Certain jurisdictions outright ban questions about current salary, such as New York City, Philadelphia, Massachusetts, Delaware, California, Oregon, and Puerto Rico.

Seventh:  Employers should avoid questions relevant to medical history. Many employers may use such questions to gauge fitness or possible attendance. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) renders discrimination based on disability or perceived disability illegal unless relevant to the job. Questions about medication use fit into a similar aura. Such questions are best avoided absent clear concerns that a worker’s health directly impairs their ability to fulfill everyday duties.

Discrimination is not the only danger lurking in the interview process. Unfulfillable promises may land the employer in the courtroom under contract law. To win over a favorite candidate, employers sometimes hide the truth to make a position more attractive. Unfulfillable promises could result in lawsuits for breach of contract. Employers must never make promises they cannot keep. Examples may include promises of benefits, permanent status, and opportunities for advancement within the company. Employers must avoid such promises unless the opportunities for the candidate are genuinely realistic.

Also, employers should use the same set of questions for each candidate. Deviating from a certain template of questions in the interview process could sprout suspicions of favoritism or discrimination. For example, asking only female candidates if they can work long hours could raise eyebrows during a discrimination suit. Tailoring specific questions to specific candidates could also lead to accusations of nepotism, favoritism, or other biases. Whether or not a discrimination suit arises, the image of an unfair hiring process will inevitably harm an employer’s reputation.

In conclusion, common sense should prevail during the hiring process. Interview questions should remain relevant to the job at hand, and the employer should be honest and up-front about the nature of the job and what they can offer the employee. Such transparency is crucial to maintaining an employer’s reputation.

Disclaimer:   VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association recommends on any legal matter that you consult a licensed attorney.  We are not attorneys and are not providing legal advice.  Please be advised that this article is written from research and is purely informational.   We encourage you to consult an attorney.

*** We hope you enjoyed this excellent article by James Pruitt, our new writer.   Stay tuned for his bio and learn more about James.

Business Loan Scams – Borrowers Beware! Part 2 of 2

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By Debbie Gregory.

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We hope that you have found the prior article on Business Loan Scams helpful.   It so important to be aware so you and your Small Veteran Owned Business do not fall prey to a scammer.  Remember that scammers often will contact you online or by phone.  Below we will provide you additional types of Business Loan Scams.

  • Ghost Investors: You can receive a call about a “potential investor” lined up to provide you huge amounts of funding immediately and asking for a transaction fee.   Keep in mind when anything sounds to good to be true, it usually is a scam.  Ghost investors are more of a con trying to go after those who might be in the market for business loans and/or funding.   The scammer will act as the “agent” for a large investor, foundation, angel investor or fund who wants to give you money and make an investment in your business.

They are not too interested in hearing your plan or ideas but want to collect your private financial information online such as your social security number or tax identification number for your business.   They will say they need this private information to conduct a background check.  They also will try to obtain an advance fee of some type from you.  They want to hook you and then do a double whammy of taking your personal information and obtaining your money in advance fees.   Legitimate investors take a considerable amount of time to investigate you and they do not ask for fees.

  • Loan Broker Swindlers: These scammers will promise to connect you with a reputable lender in the role of consultant of sorts.   They want your sensitive information and advance fees.

Yes, there are legitimate loan brokers out there, but the real ones will not ask you to pay upfront for their services.   Most ethical loan brokers work on a commission basis and are not paid their commission until the deal closes.  Please beware of any loan brokers who ask for their fees upfront.  If someone wants to buy your business or make a loan, there is a process and it should not cost you upfront.

  • After Financing Business Loan Scams: Stay alert because after you have your loan, there are scammers who will come out of the woodwork.  Below are some of the scams after you obtain your loan:
  1. Debt Relief Scam: It usually goes like this: “If you are struggling with loan payments, get out of debt with affordable monthly payments and we guarantee 48-hour approval”.   The target are people who have trouble keeping up with their loan payments.  The scammer often promises to significantly cut your loan payment or forgive all or part of it.  Once again, they will try to obtain your sensitive information and even your bank account info.   Anyone who promises you a “guaranteed approval” is usually not legitimate.  Again, they will try to obtain upfront fees.  If you are struggling with payments, talk with your existing lender and determine if you can revise the loan so the payments are more affordable.
  2. Debt Collection Schemes: This is when debt collectors harass you, make threats of arrest and try to use fear to obtain money from you.    Collectors are regulated by law.  At the end of the day, they want to work out a plan with you and are not allowed to make threats.  If you feel threatened, it probably is not a legitimate collector.

There are many ways that hard working small business owners can be tricked by scammers and con artists.  We urge you to be on the lookout for the following:

  • Unsolicited Contact
  • Non-Traditional Advertising
  • Upfront Money Requested
  • Lack of a Physical Address
  • Generic Email Address
  • Guaranteed Approval
  • High-Pressure Sales Tactics
  • Too Good to be True

If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a business loan scam, below are a list of things you can do:

  • Report to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)
  • Call local police
  • Report identity theft
  • Contact local credit bureaus

We urge you to be on the alert to avoid business loan scams.  As we previously stated, knowledge is power.  Take your time and confirm that you are dealing with legitimate sources.

If you are interested, we invite you to join VAMBOA.   There are not any fees or dues charged to members.  We will also allow members to use the VAMBOA seal on their collateral and website.  If you want to join, below is a link to register:

https://vamboa.org/member-registration

Business Loan Scams – Borrowers Beware! Part 1 of 2

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By Debbie Gregory.

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VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association, believes that knowledge is power and will protect you.  For this reason, we are bringing you this two-part article mini- series on Business Loan Scams.  Please be cautious.

As the owner of a small Veteran Owned Business, you need to be on the alert for business scams, especially those related to access to capital and loans.   There have been more scams than ever with the growth of online alternative loans that allow small business owners to access the funds they need.  Unfortunately, this creates opportunities for Internet scammers.   Various surveys have found that almost seventy percent of small businesses feel there is a greater risk of scams now compared to a few years ago.   In 2016, marketplace scams accounted for the loss of $50 billion dollars alone.

Many online and legitimate lenders have been invaluable to small business owners.   However, many hackers are running business loan scams preying on the needs of small business owners for quick and affordable capital.   They attempt to steal your money, personal information, business information by pretending to be legitimate lenders or small business loan brokers.   The good news is that there are ways to identify these business loan scams and avoid them.  If you should fall victim to a scam, you should know how to report it.

Most scammers will attempt to contact you online via email, phone, texts, direct mail, websites or search engine ads.  You must be cautious whenever anyone asks for money, personal information or your business information.  Below are a list of business scams to avoid when applying for financing:

  • Advance Fee Scams:  This is when an individual or company promises easy access to low-cost debt in exchange for an upfront payment. It will include terms such as “zero interest, no credit or bad credit works, no fees, etc.”  The scammer may reference the upfront fee as a “processing fee” or a “one-time fee”.  The goal of the scammer is to get your money before approving you for this likely fictitious loan.

Advance Fee Scams are one of the most common and popular scams.  They entice the borrower by promising that anyone can qualify.  Most legitimate lenders have requirements.  The lower one’s credit score, the higher interest they will have to pay in the real world.   Often legitimate lenders do charge some upfront fees such as application fees or fees to do your credit report so you must be careful.

  • Peer Lending Scams: Have you ever seen a message on Craigslist, FB Messenger, Reddit or other places that says: “Low-interest loans up to 100K.  Low credit scores and bankruptcy is not a problem”?   Often, these are scams.   There are credible peer-to-peer lenders with thousands of investors who pool together and purchase loans or parts of loans that meet their criteria.   Instead of a bank, think of it as dozens of lenders working collectively.

Typical peer lending scams often resemble advance fee scams.   These peer lending scammers will also ask for some type of upfront fee or they might also be after sensitive personal information.  Beware because they can also steal your identity.  Never ever use a money wiring services for a business loan and never make any payment in advance.

  • Funding Kit Scams: Some unscrupulous online loan providers want you to believe that obtaining a business loan is so complicated, you need to pay them to walk you through the process. This is a scam!    The scammers might offer offers to obtain government grants or inside tips or tricks and offer to provide you information for a fee.

All of the information that you need to obtain a loan is easily found online and there are not any fees to use this information.  When you see words such as “free” and government grants”, it is time to run for the heels.    If you have questions that you cannot find online, ethical, and real lenders are more than happy to answer these questions without charging you a fee.  If anyone asks you to pay for information to obtain a grant or loan, it is likely they are trying to scam you.

  • Credit Repair Scams: Have you ever heard offers to increase or improve your credit score by at least 100 points in a short timeframe.  Or perhaps it the offer is to wipe out your bad credit, etc.  When you are trying to obtain a small business loan, your credit history is the most important part of your financial record and used by lenders to make qualifying decisions.

You do not need to pay anyone if you want to challenge or dispute something on your credit report.  You can do this yourself and it is free.   Be wary of anyone wanting to charge you upfront fees to improve and remove negative information from your credit report.   Do not feel pressured and keep in mind that there are a multitude of legitimate lenders willing to work with you even if you have a low credit number or a brief credit history.

VAMBOA hopes that our small veteran and military business owners have enjoyed this first article.   Stay tuned for Part 2 with more Business Loan Scams.  We also want to invite you to become a member of VAMBOA.  There are not any fees or dues and you can use our seal on your collateral and website.  If you want to join, please register here:  https://vamboa.org/member-registration/

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