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Business Grants for Veterans : Part 1 of 3

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By Debbie Gregory.

LinkedIN Debbie Gregory VAMBOA VAMBOA Facebook VAMBOA Twitter

 

Looking for a business grant? Are you a Veteran Owned Small Business? There are quite a few grants out there that are offered by a variety of institutions.   Grants are time sensitive and are open for a specific period and then they are no longer available.  It does not make sense to list grants in this article because by the time you read this article, they may no longer be available.  However, you certainly can find them!

 

This is a three part series on Business Grants for Veterans and Part 1 will detail a few good places to find grants and other financial assistance for your Veteran Owned Small Business. Please keep in mind that just because you don’t see a specific grant or site listed within this article, there are many other grants that you can locate by performing a comprehensive search with specific criteria that applies to you.  It may take some energy, research and time to locate the right grants and financing options but consider it a treasure hunt that will always be worth it to your Veteran Owned Business.

 

The best place to begin your search for grants is the Federal Government’s database for small business grants at.Grants.gov. You should check the site often as grant opportunities begin and end frequently. Once you have found a grant (or two) that will work for your needs, you need to determine your next steps.  Grants.gov provides a very clear and specific process for applying for grants.   Below are some specific areas that will assist you on their website:

  1. Learn about grants: Their learning page includes a brief instructional video to help guide you.
  2. Check eligibility: This page will help you determine whether or not your business is eligible to apply for a federal grant.
  3. Search grants: You can search for grants by keyword, opportunity number, as well as other criteria.
  4. Register: If you find a grant you would like to apply for you will need to register for an account.
  5. Apply for a grant: The apply page includes helpful videos on how to use the system to properly apply for your chosen grant.
  6. Track your application: This page gives you the ability to keep an eye on how your application is progressing.

 

If you are looking specifically for Research and Development (R&D) grants from the Federal Government, there are two other programs that you may wish to consider:

 

Even though Grants.gov is an outstanding resource to locate grants, the Federal Government is not the only place to look for grants for your Veteran Owned Small Business. Our next article in this series will cover specific state offered business grants that you should explore as well.   Stay tuned!

 

By Debbie Gregory.

LinkedIN Debbie Gregory VAMBOA VAMBOA Facebook VAMBOA Twitter

 

Veteran-owned small businesses have a lot to offer, to their customers, their communities, and to prospective employees. Despite the focus and push for veteran employment through diversity and inclusion, there needs to be greater focus on supplier diversity for veteran owned businesses.  I also believe that corporations need to integrate their Supplier Diversity, Inclusion and Diversity and Veteran Affinity and mentorship groups for real success.

 

Some interesting stats according to the Small Business Administration (SBA):

  • Veterans are a key part of any supplier diversity program.
  • Veterans are one of the most successful groups of business owners in America.
  • 1 in 10 businesses are veteran-owned.
  • Veterans are 30% more likely to hire other veterans.
  • 5% of VOSB’s operate in the professional, scientific, technical services industries, and the construction industry.
  • 1 % are in wholesale and retail trade.

 

Don’t Just Hire Veterans – Do Business with Them! There are many good reasons to work with veteran-owned businesses.

  • Know the Rules

 

The federal government requires 3% of the total value of all prime contract and subcontract awards go to Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSBs).

  • Finding Veteran-Owned Businesses

 

The very best way to find a veteran-owned business is to search connect with and sponsor trade associations such as VAMBOA with huge memberships of Veteran Business Owners.   VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association can connect the RFIs and RFPs of your corporation with our network of over 7,000 members.

 

I believe that time is at a premium for small Veteran and Service-Disabled Businesses as it is for the corporations that are required to have a diverse supplier network.  Instead of spending the time of staff and the expense of attending conference, become a VAMBOA sponsor and we will place your message online to our large membership and on social media with almost a quarter of a million fans and followers.

  • Do Your Research
    There are good vendors and bad ones. Simply having a federal VOSB/SDVOSB certification does not mean that the vendor is experienced or any good at their job. Always ask for work examples or references as you would with any vendor, supplier, or potential employee.

 

Any company can slap a “veteran-owned” sticker on their location or product but some may not be honest, and fraud is a concern. Most states will certify a business as VOSB/SDVOSB if they have their federal VA certification. Before doing business make sure that you request a copy of that certification.

  • Get Management on Board

 

You will need to gain the support of your senior management in order to add veteran-owned businesses to your approved supplier lists. Veteran-owned businesses now provide almost every type of product or service you can think of.  Make sure the entire company is on the same page about including VOSB/SDVOSBs. Veterans hit all the boxes as they are diverse group including minorities, women and disabled.

  • Educate Your Purchasing and Contract Departments
    Once you are sure that you have clearly outlined your goals for including veterans in your diversity supplier efforts, provide well researched lists to your key personnel of veteran-owned businesses to help jump-start the process. The most common internal pushback is lack of access to known veteran-owned businesses. If you cannot find them – it is hard to work with them. Make it as easy as possible for your employees to include VOSB/SDVOSBs when your company is looking for a vendor or supplier. The very best way is to become a VAMBOA sponsor.  Contact us.
  • Tipping the Bidding Scales in Your Favor
    Sometimes working with veteran-owned businesses can bring you a competitive edge when bidding a job. Certain agencies will give preference to companies that utilize VOSB/SDVOSBs. Each federal agency sets participation goals for small businesses in procurement contracts. Regulations require Federal purchases over $10,000, but less than $250,000 to automatically reserve, or set-aside, a portion of the contract monies for small businesses.

 

Working with VOSB/SDVOSB can help you, the VOSB/SDVOSB you work with, and our economy in general. Next time you need a new supplier, vendor, or partner it may be in your best interest to find one being run by a vet.   Contact VAMBOA.

 

 

By Debbie Gregory.

LinkedIN Debbie Gregory VAMBOA VAMBOA Facebook VAMBOA Twitter

 

Word of mouth is still one of the most powerful advertising methods.  People highly value and trust the opinions of those they know and love. If you can get them to speak positively of your business, odds are good their friends and family will be knocking at your door as well.

 

Even word of mouth from strangers can have a huge impact on a person’s buying habits. Online reviews are very important with approximately 9 of 10 people reading and being influenced by online reviews. Most people use online reviews to determine whether a business is trustworthy and deserving of their business. This is consistent with all types of businesses including doctors, attorneys, restaurants, tradespeople, brick and mortar retail stores, E-Commerce stores and more.

 

What can you do to get people to talk positively about your business? Below are some ways to help you foster more positive word of mouth endorsements and grow your business.

 

Ask for Testimonials and Display Them Prominently:

Customer testimonials are powerful endorsements. Make sure that your business is in the habit of asking for testimonials and make sure that you display prominently where others can find and read them. Share the testimonial on your website, on your social media channels and you can even print and post them in your place of business.

 

Make It Easy for Your Customers to Contact You:

Poor communication will frustrate people and drive customers away from you. You need to be reachable across multiple platforms and in multiple ways. Make sure that your website is easy to read and navigate.   Being responsive can make a huge difference. Make sure contact numbers, emails, or a contact form are all easy to access and use. It is important that your phone connects, that someone answers courteously, and that your voicemail has space to receive new messages if no one can pick up the call. Answer all voicemails, emails, and messages received through social media in a timely and professional manner.

 

Provide Excellent Customer Service:

Excellent customer service is the most important thing you can focus on to gain positive word of mouth as well as set yourself apart from your competition. If someone is unhappy with your customer service, they are even MORE likely to tell their friends and family than if they have a positive experience with your business. They will also take their own as well as the business of those near and dear to them elsewhere.  It is critical that you demonstrate to your customers how important they are to you. Treat them as you would want to be treated, with kindness, courtesy, respect, and show that you are interested in their needs.

 

Stay tuned for the second part of this series which will discuss engaging people on social media, monitoring your online reputation, maintaining a positive image both in person and online, and how giving your time or and/or donations that can greatly improve your business reputation.

An Effective Competitive Analysis : Part 1 of 3

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By Debbie Gregory.

LinkedIN Debbie Gregory VAMBOA VAMBOA Facebook VAMBOA Twitter

 

What is a competitive analysis?

A competitive analysis is defining and evaluating your major competitor’s strengths and weaknesses then comparing them with your own.

 

Why do a competitive analysis?

When you have a better understanding of your competition, the greater your chances are to outperform them.

 

A competitive analysis can be a very effective tool to help you grow your business. The more comprehensive and in-depth your analysis, the greater benefit to you and your business.

 

Types of competitors:

There are many types of competitors. You may have a fairly accurate sense of who your competition is but you might be surprised to learn that you overlooked some competitors.

  • Direct competition – These are the businesses that offer the same products and services that you do and service your target market.
  • Indirect competition – These are the businesses that offer the same or very similar products and services that you do but they target a little different market than you do.
  • Tertiary competition – These are the businesses that offer something that may vaguely link to your business but isn’t in direct competition with you.

 

Search for information about your competitors:

Begin your analysis by compiling a list of names of known competitors as well as keywords or phrases that are linked to your products and services. Once you have that list in hand, select your favorite search engine and use it to locate your competition.

 

Search engines are wonderful for helping you figure out who your competitors are as well as helping you to gather data on what they are doing. Don’t stop there! You will need to click on their sites, social channels, articles, and more to gain the information you need to do you analysis.

 

Ways to find out who your competitors are:

  • Look at the ads / sponsored listings when you do your searches
  • Use content analyzing tools to search blog posts and social media for company names
  • Ask your current customers, or prospective customers, who else they use or have used
  • Read trade publications
  • Check social media channels
  • Look at popular forums

 

Put the data in a spreadsheet:

Once you have your list compiled, you can begin your actual competitive analysis. It is a good idea to use a spreadsheet to keep all the information you collect together and in a format that is easy to read and access.

 

Obtain a basic overview of your competition:

 

Include information:

  • Number of employees
  • Noteworthy employees
  • Number of offices and locations
  • Number of clients
  • Annual Revenue
  • Products and services offered
  • Area(s) they operate I
  • Websites and social media channels they own
  • Company history and significant milestones
  • Message/Brand

 

Next, you want to take a close look at how the company sees itself. The easiest way to do this is to look at the content they put out under their brand. How do they talk about their own products and services?

 

Look closely at items such as:

  • Website copy (the text on the site)
  • Social media channels
  • Printed materials (flyers, brochures, trade materials, etc.)
  • Employees speaking at events
  • Press releases or appearances
  • Interviews given by employees or management

 

The messages they put out will provide valuable insight into what they feel is important, the key areas they focus on, and the type of customer they are targeting.

 

Ask yourself these types of questions while compiling the data:

  • What is their opening piece of copy on their homepage?
  • What features/products do they emphasize?
  • Who (what types of people or customers) are they specifically talking to?
  • How do they talk/what language do they use?
  • What are their main selling points?
  • What imagery (graphs, charts, cartoons, photos, etc.) do they use?
  • What competitors do they talk about, if any?
  • What clients do they highlight, if any?

 

Please stay tuned for Part 2 of this series will go into greater depth regarding the information you should be collecting such as pricing, financial records, job postings, and their website.

 

By Debbie Gregory.

LinkedIN Debbie Gregory VAMBOA VAMBOA Facebook VAMBOA Twitter

 

Recap:

In Part 2 of our holiday preparation series we went over planning deals for your past customers, putting together your holiday messaging, preparing your inventory and packing materials and getting your site prepared for the holiday rush. In Part 3, we will finish out the series with the graphics you will need to create, your PPC (Pay Per Click) campaigns, updating your holiday policies, and readying your site for buyers.

 

Create All of the Holiday Graphics & Imagery You Will Need:

It is best to create all needed graphics and imagery well in advance of the holiday season. Adding cute little holiday touches really helps people feel festive when shopping with you. Take the time to update your website, logo, headers, and social channels with fun holiday touches. You will also want to create fun graphics to go with all your promotions, deals, and bundles. Make them eye-catching, colorful, festive, and fun!

 

Plan, Write & Review Your Holiday PPC Campaigns (Pay Per Click):  

If you utilize Pay Per Click (PPC) campaigns, you will want to make sure that they reflect the same promotions, deals, and discounts that you are planning to push on your website and social channels. These campaigns are also best run during the peak buying days mentioned earlier. Typically you want to focus holiday campaigns from December 14th-24th.

 

Review & Update Any Policies & Procedures That Can BE Affected During the Holidays:

Since we are specifically talking about eCommerce businesses you will want to make sure that your holiday shipping time frames and procedures are front and center on your site. You may want to consider creating a holiday FAQ page that covers typical questions your customers may have during the holiday season so they know what they can expect. Items such as:

  • Special hours
  • Last days to order to ensure delivery by December 24th
  • Dates certain types of shipping will no longer be available

 

Test & Update Your Website Security & Performance:

Security is always a concern for consumers when shopping online. Make sure that your site is ready for the holiday spending season by:

  • Having an SSL certificate installed and configured or update the one you have
  • Make sure that your hosting package can handle the holiday traffic
  • Make sure your site is totally up to date
  • Make sure your site is running properly and as fast as possible
  • Make sure that your site looks proper both on a computer and on mobile

 

If you plan accordingly, tackle any possible issues, you will have a lower stress, more profitable, and more productive holiday eCommerce season.

 

Happy holidays and we hope this is your biggest holiday season ever!

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