Black Businesses Receive Tech Industry Push Ahead Of Holiday Shopping Bonanza

The Covid-19 pandemic has dealt Black-owned businesses a tough hand. Stifled by stay-at-home orders, on-again off-again store closures and stricter limits occupancy limits, many businesses are struggling to outlast the seemingly unending virus outbreak.

Although they’ve rebounded slightly in recent months, Black-owned stores have experienced the greatest decline this year, plummeting from 1.1 million businesses in February to 640,000 in April—a 41% drop.

But spurred by a national movement to support Black businesses, which kicked off this summer, a new number of corporations are taking small steps to put the Black in Black Friday.

Black Friday online sales pulled in a record $7.4 billion in 2019— the second largest online shopping day ever and a 19.6% increase over the previous year—while the holiday season overall generated more than $72 billion in online sales, according to Adobe Analytics. Online sales for this Black Friday are projected to generate $10.3 billion.

The surge in digital spending over the holiday season and the heightened visibility that’s been awarded to small businesses through corporate sponsorships could have a considerable impact on Black businesses in particular, sustaining them through the a few more months of the pandemic.

Facebook, for one, launched its #BuyBlackFriday initiative and a corresponding toolkit and gift guide in October as part of a broader three-month campaign to buttress small businesses during the holiday season.

The gift guide features products from Black-owned businesses and was curated alongside the U.S. Black Chambers and several corporate partners. 

“Black-owned businesses have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, closing at twice the rate of other small businesses,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a blog post announcing the initiative. She added, “But we know that millions of people want to help.”

The campaign runs through Black Friday on November 27, a symbolic starting gun for the holiday shopping season.

More recently, Google partnered with Grammy-winning musician Wyclef Jean and the U.S. Black Chambers to promote its #BlackOwnedFriday campaign, an effort to make November 27 “Black-owned Friday” and galvanize shoppers to buy Black beyond the Thanksgiving weekend.

The tech giant has also showcased Black-owed businesses on its social platforms since mid-October and now allows users to find nearby stores that identify as Black-owned through its search engine.

“I’ve seen firsthand the strain and struggle that Black-owned businesses face,” Jean said in a statement. “For many of them, this holiday season will be critical to their survival.”

TikTok, the latest viral social media platform, threw its weight behind Black-owned businesses months after facing censorship allegations from Black creatives in June. Earlier this month, the video sharing platform, which has about 200 million monthly active users in the U.S., launched Support Black Businesses, a digital hub to amplify Black entrepreneurs. 

TikTok also announced #ShopBlack, an in-app campaign that allows users to create videos spotlighting their favorite Black-owned businesses or to share their experience as a Black entrepreneur.

As small businesses reel from the pandemic’s economic disruption, many big retailers have had breakaway growth. Amazon’s profits and sales exceeded analysts’ expectations, reporting a 37% sales growth and tripling its third-quarter profits as more shoppers turn to the e-commerce giant during the pandemic. 

But celebrities and influencers alike have started to leverage Amazon’s omnipresence to highlight Black sellers on the platform. Nearly 70% of the products on Oprah Winfrey’s highly anticipated annual list of her favorite things are created by Black-owned or Black-led businesses this year and all are available for purchase on Amazon.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx

The billionaire media mogul has partnered with Amazon on the list since 2015 and her yearly picks have provided brands with considerable gains in sales since the list’s 1996 advent.

Black Americans have developed a growing presence among small businesses owners and could stand to gain considerable sales from dedicated shopping holidays like Small Business Saturday, which raked in an estimated $19.6 billion in 2019. And while physical distancing measures will significantly curb foot traffic this year, more than 112 million Americans visited a small business on that day last year, a record high.

As shoppers increasingly reject winding lines that snake around the store, a trend that’s long been in the making but was exacerbated by the pandemic, they’re also looking to support independent local businesses—a potential boon for niche Black businesses with an online presence this holiday season. Follow me on Twitter. Send me a secure tip.

Ruth Umoh

 Ruth Umoh

I’m a reporter covering the various aspects of diversity and inclusion in business and society at large. Previously, I was a reporter at CNBC, where I focused on leadership and strategic management. I’ve also dabbled in video journalism, working as a breaking news digital producer for New York Daily News, followed by a yearlong stint as a producer at Rolling Stone. My work has been featured on New York Daily News, Yahoo Finance and Time Out. I’m a proud alumna of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, receiving honors for my investigative thesis on the alarming number of physicians dying by suicide. Tweet me @ruthumohnews or send tips to rumoh@forbes.com.

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MarketWatch

Black business ownership fell more than any demographic group since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. We spoke to some across the nation who are still fighting to survive. See this video on MarketWatch: https://www.marketwatch.com/video/sec… MarketWatch provides the latest stock market, financial and business news. Get stock market quotes, personal finance advice, company news and more: https://www.marketwatch.com/ Follow MarketWatch on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marketwatch Follow MarketWatch on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MarketWatch Follow MarketWatch on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/marketwatch/ Follow MarketWatch on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/mark…

How to Turn Your Customer Base Into a Community To Help Your Business Succeed

When people feel like part of a community, amazing things can happen. When people can gather — in person or virtually — they form relationships that keep them coming back for more. One example is the ever-growing — 1.4 million members currently — a Facebook group for the Instant Pot Community, where Instant Pot users share their favorite recipes and latest trials and errors. People visit that page, sometimes multiple times a day. It’s a community. And people love it.

There are ways that you can create this type of following for your product or service too. Bond your customers together so they keep you and your business top of mind by reminding one another. Here are some ways you can implement this. 

Related: 4 Reasons Why Focusing on Community Is Your Best Marketing Strategy

1. Have a place where your customers or clients can connect and help one another

If your product or service solves a problem, there’s one thing all your customers have in common: They’re looking for a solution. And while that’s exactly what you provide, they can also mindshare and connect with like-minded people. Think of it this way: If your product is an email tracking software, your target customer or client base likely consists of salespeople or anyone who frequently sends cold emails. Use that knowledge to host a group or forum where people can share their best tips for cold emailing, follow-ups, etc. 

This is what Sergej Heck, the founder of PEAK Tech does. “We bring blockchain companies together into a community so they can network and help one another,” Heck explained. “These companies all have low visibility so they need each other’s help.” He encourages other business owners to consider what they’re giving to the community. It’s not enough to just have one place where everyone can converse. That could be a community manager who poses discussion questions and offers resources, or there could be something else of value that’s continually given. “We both educate our community and share profits with them,” added Heck. 

2. Create a system where the customer base holds each other accountable

Andrew James is the founder of Oasis, a company that helps businesses scale their marketing by connecting them with commission-based affiliates. James says that by building a community, they are better able to secure results for their customers. “We put such a big emphasis on building solid communities inside of our product because we found that if someone is going to get results, most of the time they need support. In our case, we have courses, which is the info they need to get results. The question is, ‘why doesn’t everyone get results if everyone has access to the same information?'” The answer is simple. “Most people don’t execute,” James added. “Maybe they’re scared or they don’t have a support system. So, we shifted our focus to building supportive communities.” 

James said right after they shifted focus, the results his customers were seeing from the products “sky-rocketed because people were actually going through using the product and staying engaged and focused.” If your product educates or encourages your clients to do something, it’s great to have accountability built into your community. Ask customers to share their progress or tips.  

Related: How to Create a Community Among Your Customers

3. Create a centralized hub for education

How you get customers to stick around matters. In addition to letting the community foster itself through discussion and the sharing of resources and tips, consider how you can offer educational content of your own. According to smile.io, this is what fitness apparel company GymShark does via its blog.

“With articles loaded with tips, tutorials and exercises, their blog is jam-packed full of health and fitness-related information that has clearly positioned them as their members’ go-to source for anything health and fitness related,” said author Tim Peckover. “This makes it easy for customers to decide to purchase their products as a way of strengthening their connection with the fitness community.”

Especially if you do any type of content marketing, consider how it can feed back to a centralized place where your customers, not just your prospects, can get information. This way, if conversation lulls, a new piece of educational content (via an article, video, podcast, or whatever you prefer) can bring customers back to the community. 

There are many online platforms that can help you get a head start on this community — a Facebook group, a newsletter, Patreon, or a hosted forum right on your website. This is how one-time customers turn to lifelong customers and new prospects can feel like they’re part of something bigger when they stumble across your company for the first time. Community is a powerful tool to ensure you’re keeping in touch with all of your customer base.

By: Imran Tariq Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

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Fortune Magazine 102K subscribers ONE ON ONE How to turn your customers into a community Christine Day, CEO, lululemon athletica Interviewer: Jennifer Reingold, Fortune

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Market Alignment With Segmentation and Differentiation

This is the second in an exclusive series of articles from Total Alignment authors Riaz Khadem and Linda Khadem titled “The Alignment Factor.” Check back in every Thursday for new installments. 

Businesses small and large are being impacted by the pandemic, and entrepreneurs are not immune. In order to survive and prosper during these difficult times, it might be necessary to reinvest in your business concept and redesign your offerings.

As a successful entrepreneur, you have been aligned with your market, but are you still aligned? Do your customers need the same things as before, with the same mode of delivery? For example, imagine a previously successful restaurant that has lost its customers during the pandemic. Does the owner truly understand the current needs of his customers beyond the menu it used to offer or the ambiance it had created before? 

Related: The Alignment Factor’: The Keys to Internal Alignment

What Is Market Segmentation?

In a nutshell, it’s grouping heterogenous people into homogeneous groups, or segments, by some criteria related to their needs. By defining a segment and focusing on the needs of that segment, and aligning products or services with those needs, you have taken steps toward market alignment. The key characteristics of a market segment could be similar customer needs or preferences. In a company with multiple locations, a segment will likely account for geography, demography and choices people make, the type of services they value and the quality they expect. In a smaller company, it could be a subset of these criteria.

Let’s look again at restaurants. Assuming the wearing of masks is a pretty universal requirement, the first pressing issue for owners is how to proceed over the next few months. Should the restaurant continue to offer inside dining? If so, how do you protect the customers? Usually, this is met by distancing the tables farther apart, requiring the servers to wear masks and hopefully the kitchen staff to wear masks and gloves. But what about the substantial number of people who now want to-go meals? Should they be forced to walk into a restaurant where people are eating (obviously without masks) to pick up the food? Or, more conveniently, can the restaurant offer to bring the food to the car? What about payment? Does the customer need to enter the dining room and present his credit card? Or can they pay over the phone or on the website when ordering?

These issues are not unsolvable, yet many restaurants seem unable to adapt. Perhaps it is a rigidity in the way the owners see their establishments and an unwillingness to re-evaluate the new needs of the market segment they were serving. It’s crucial to re-evaluate your customers and perhaps re-segment your market in line with the new reality. Otherwise, precious resources can be wasted on activities that are no longer in alignment. Flexibility and creativity at this juncture can mean the difference between success and failure.

What Is Differentiation?

After re-defining your market segments, you will have to identify what is important to customers in a segment likely to buy your product. Value drivers could be cost, quality, features, safety, buying experience, after-sale support, etc. In a restaurant, they could include the cost of items on the menu, the quality of the food (e.g. organic or not; using meat and poultry and sea food from sources that care for the animals well in a healthy environment), the variety in the menu, safety in the process of acquiring the food and eating, the restaurant experience and treatment received after the service is completed.

For each segment, evaluate the importance to the customers of each appropriatevalue driver on a scale of low to medium to high. For example, quality might be high for a segment while cost is a medium. Safety could be high, and follow-up support could be low. The evaluation should be based on data, not just opinion. You may need to use customer surveys to hear the voice of the customer.

Next, evaluate the same value drivers in terms of how your offering is different from your competitors. For example, is the quality you offer significantly better than your competitors? Is the cost you offer substantially lower than your competitors? Are the features you offer unique to you and unavailable to the customer from other suppliers? As you evaluate your value drivers, you can assign a low, medium or high rating to each. For example, if your value driver is features, and you offer unique features no one else is providing, your differentiation would be high. If everyone offers the same features, then your differentiation is low. Again, the evaluation should be based on data. 

After evaluating your differentiation on each of the value drivers, you have a set of two evaluations for each one: The first is how important the value driver is to the customer in a segment, and the second is the differentiation of that value driver from your competitors. You can plot the two evaluations on a two-dimensional grid, the scale being low, medium and high on both axes

The value drivers that fall in the (High:High) category should become your primary focus, both in terms of the message you send to the customers in that segment and in terms of making absolutely sure that those value drivers are perceived by your customers as you promised — or even better. For example, if quality and safety have been evaluated as (High:High), your resources should be directed toward making sure your customers are aware of your differentiation and that your quality and safety are, in fact, at the highest possible levels.

Strategies for Each Segment

Your market segments don’t all deserves the same attention. You could close out some segments and put your investment into others, especially during these challenging times. As entrepreneurs, you will have a preference based on emotional attachments. This is dangerous, as your pet offering might not be appropriate for all segments. Having re-segmented your market during this pandemic, you are in a position to decide where to put your energies and investment. You will have to choose the segments to grow, those that could stay at the same level of growth and those you should exit.

How do you make such decisions? There are guides in the management literature to help you do this. Essentially, for each segment, you perform a two-fold evaluation: How strong is your segment compared to your strongest competitor in terms of the internal processes that deliver value to the customer? And how attractive is the segment to an investor?

If you are much stronger than your strongest competitor, then your strength in that segment would be high. If you are at the same level as your strongest competitor, your strength would be medium, and if you are weaker than your strongest competitor, your evaluation in that segment would be low.

As for market attractiveness, you will have to evaluate whether the market in a segment is extremely favorable, (considering a set of external criteria) or not. The external criteria could include the size of the market, the growth of the market and the profitability of the market. If the market segment is favorable, then the evaluation for that segment would be high. Otherwise, it could be medium or low. The value of this exercise is that it will enable you to see the relative position of your different segments compared to each other.

The segment with high strength and high market attractiveness (High:High) is the one that deserves your attention the most, and the segment that has low strength and low attractiveness (Low:Low) can be divested unless it provides input into an attractive segment. Other segments will require appropriate strategies based on their evaluation.

Related: The One System That Changes Employees’ Behavior

Strategic Mindset

The strategic mindset we are proposing in this article will help you arrive at a set of strategies appropriate to each of your market segments. To develop a strategy, you need to have identified your market segments, differentiation and the relative position of your segments on the business strength/market attractiveness continuum.

Choosing where to put your time and investment will be key to your survival and growth, enabling you to make sound decisions and use your precious financial and human resources to deliver maximum value to your customers.

By: Riaz Khadem and Linda Khadem Business Strategy Experts

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tutor2u 112K subscribers The STP (segmentation, targeting & positioning) model of marketing is outlined in this revision video. #alevelbusiness#businessrevision#aqabusiness#tutor2ubusiness#alevels#edexcelbusiness#businessalevel

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7 Actionable Tips Every Business Should Try

When the news is constantly negative and the world seems down, are you going to take your business down with it? Of course not!

It’s time to rise up and get your business in gear during these difficult times. Get those gears churning and make your business a success in even the toughest of times.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, it’s time for you to look into some of these actionable business tips. Just keep reading.

1. Save, save, save

One of the biggest problems that businesses have is that they don’t have enough cash in the bank for when bad times come. When there’s a slow down in your business or a slow down in the economy in general, you have to be prepared.

Think about this as a savings account.

It’s highly recommended that everyone keep six months’ worth of living in their savings account. This means that you should have at least $3,000 in your savings account if you spend $1,000 a month. This includes all living expenses like rent, food, utilities, gas, and more.

You should have enough in your business’ savings to cover six months of employee pay, supply pay, and more. If you’re not keeping this amount in your business’ account, you need to reevaluate how your business is operating and allocating its expenses.

2. Take care of your great employees

The best thing you can do to keep your business running on a positive note is to take care of your employees. You need to recognize who your most valuable employees are and take care of them as much as you can.

If you continuously take care of your best employees, they’re more likely to work harder and stay longer. Having faithful employees is great, especially when it makes for a great environment for your customers.

The employees that you’re taking care of will appreciate your friendly and encouraging workplace over others they may have worked at. The point in caring for these employees is to make your workplace stand out. Take advantage of your great employees and show them that you care so that you can stand out for making them stand out. 

3. Say goodbye to bad employees

It is never too early to fire a bad employee. While you should understand that giving second chances is okay, you should know when to fire them.

A bad employee isn’t an isolated issue. These are people who are interacting with your business’ customers and other employees. They could be making a bad experience for everyone else.

If you’re finding that one of your employees is building a poor experience for your customers and employees, it’s time to say goodbye.

Before moving on from this idea, we should explore second chances though. It may be useful to have an unspoken system when it comes to disciplinary actions for poor employees.

You may want to give one or two chances for small, isolated incidents. If an employee has blatantly made a customer have a poor experience, you shouldn’t be shy about hiring someone else for that position.

4. Look at yourself before anyone else

If something in your business is consistently going wrong, your probably the reason why. This is why you should always look at yourself before anyone else when it comes to workplace mistakes.

You have a great influence on your workplace, from your leadership style to your workplace rules to even your mood. It’s important to recognize how you could positively and negatively impact your workplace.

Make sure to evaluate yourself before pointing fingers. Even if an employee made a mistake, you should think about how you could have poorly communicated your expectations.

5. Listen to your customers

The customer is always right, at least the majority of the time. They know what they want, and it’s your job to help them get what those things are.

As your business grows, your customers will tell you what they want. Whether it’s through your social media channels or directly to an employee, it’s important to take down any complaints or suggestions.

Make sure that you tell your employees that they should always make a note of what the customers have been saying.

6. Trust your gut

Your gut is normally right when it comes to split-second decisions. Go with your gut.

In business, you’re going to come across a lot of decisions to make. Sometimes, you’re not going to have the time or the energy to get into a full-scale investigation for every question and problem. That’s the perfect time to depend on your gut.

Focus your time and energy on bigger decisions. Let your gut lead you when it feels strongly about something.

7. Keep your business separate

You need to keep your business life separate from your personal life. Keep them separate when it comes to everything.

Your social life will thank you when you’re keeping your work life at work. You shouldn’t be working on work tasks at home, just like you wouldn’t bring your children to work with you every day.

You should also make sure that your personal and business accounts are different. You never want to tap personal money into your business accounts. It’s going to be a tough call to make if your business is ever on the downturn, but you need to make sure that your business is sufficient outside of your personal savings account.

Getting More Business Tips

Getting business tips like these are great for any business person who’s looking for a little bit of inspiration and encouragement. You should always be looking to take in great information like the seven tips we shared in this post. If you have more specific questions to ask, contact us here. We’d love to hear from you and help you with anything you need.

By: Adam Jacobs / Managing Director Bubblegum Casting & Hunter Talent

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How to Make Smart Bets in Business

Business is full of bets, especially where investing is concerned. If you’re interested in rolling the dice by purchasing a business, making an angel investment in a startup or even allocating your hard-earned money for your first employee, it’s important to know what makes a smart bet and how to protect yourself from a worst-case scenario. It’s worth stating that even deciding to go into a business of your own is a form of a bet, and merits the same type of background due-diligence.

This may require testing or gaining new knowledge, but a thorough understanding is critical, especially with glaring statistics regarding the failure rate for startups at a whopping 50 percent, according to Small Biz Genius. With statistics like these, there’s no way to ensure success. However,  there are definitely ways to think through potential pitfalls in business models and feel more secure regarding where you invest your money and your time.

Related: Make Your Money Grow: How to get wealthy by Smart Investment

Verify demand through popularity

When it comes down to it, a sure bet in business is dependent upon how much customers want what it is that you’re selling. If you can do some market research and verify demand, you’re in good shape. Demand can come from the product’s value — such as its ability to solve a problem — or even from the person who’s selling the product, like a major celebrity who has established trust with millions of followers online. 

This is one of the reasons why big influencers and celebrities can land lucrative book deals. Publishers know that whatever they release will fly off the shelves. The demand from their fanbase is verifiable. Take comedian Amy Schumer, who landed a rumored $8-10 million book deal for 2016’s The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo.

Verify demand through testing

If a celebrity or big-time influencer isn’t included in the equation and you’re just trying to figure out how a product will sell, try a “market as if it were real” test approach. According to Ron Rule from the Entrepreneur’s Handbook, this is because “the only way to truly know if someone is going to fork over their hard-earned cash to buy your product is to get it in front of them.” Otherwise, market research is all mere guesswork. It gets you more clarity than you would otherwise have, but it doesn’t mean much until a target customer’s wallet is involved. 

Rather than going through the hassle and added investment of actually building out the product and then seeing if there’s a demand, Rule recommends creating a prototype of the product in Photoshop, setting up an ecommerce website and then leaving your payment processing in test mode so that it doesn’t actually charge a potential customer’s credit card for a fictional item. 

Then, begin to direct ads to the page to see if customers actually buy. “Personally I would spend around $10,000 on a proper marketing test, but you can start with a lot less if you aren’t comfortable going that high right away,” Rule elaborates in his book. “I do recommend spending at least $1,000 because you want to get enough clicks and conversions for the data to mean something — trust me, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to lose $1,000 on a marketing test than it is to lose tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars producing a product nobody wants.” 

Sometimes, the best bets require a smaller upfront investment first for a big payout on the back end.

Engulf yourself into the industry

The more you know about what you’re investing in, the more educated your bets can be, which usually pays off on the back end. This piece of advice comes from sports gambler Zach Hirsch. At 18 years old, Hirsch is regarded as one of the top-performing sports analysts in sports gambling, with a 90 percent accuracy rate in his predictions (which is over 20 percent higher than the industry average). 

Hirsch’s best advice on making sound bets is to “engulf yourself in the industry.” For Hirsch, he takes this piece of advice within the type of sport he’s betting on, but the advice carries for business investments, as well. “Learn everything there is to know, engage with the experts, and do whatever it takes to further your understanding of the craft,” Hirsch recommends. This advice can be extended to getting to know the founder of the startup you’re investing in or just ensuring you know as much as you can about your new industry, so you can see clearly how a product or service will perform. Do your backup research, then research some more. Keep having important conversations.

Related: How to Invest Your Hard-Earned Money in the Right Project

Even with verified demand and a thorough understanding of your industry, there’s no guarantee that your investment is 100 percent safe, but you’ll at least have the perspective to see potential bumps in the road or glaring stop signs in your betting decisions. These insights may make all the difference.

By: Aimee Tariq / Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Smarter Faster™ Big Think is the leading source of expert-driven, actionable, educational content — with thousands of videos, featuring experts ranging from Bill Clinton to Bill Nye, we help you get smarter, faster. S​ubscribe to learn from top minds like these daily. Get actionable lessons from the world’s greatest thinkers & doers. Our experts are either disrupting or leading their respective fields. ​We aim to help you explore the big ideas and core skills that define knowledge in the 21st century, so you can apply them to the questions and challenges in your own life. Other Frequent contributors include Michio Kaku & Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Michio Kaku Playlist: https://bigth.ink/kaku Bill Nye Playlist: https://bigth.ink/BillNye Neil DeGrasse Tyson Playlist: https://bigth.ink/deGrasseTyson Read more at Bigthink.com for a multitude of articles just as informative and satisfying as our videos. New articles posted daily on a range of intellectual topics. Join Big Think Edge, to gain access to a world-class learning platform focused on building the soft skills essential to 21st century success. It features insight from many of the most celebrated and intelligent individuals in the world today. Topics on the platform are focused on: emotional intelligence, digital fluency, health and wellness, critical thinking, creativity, communication, career development, lifelong learning, management, problem solving & self-motivation. BIG THINK EDGE: https://bigth.ink/Edge If you’re interested in licensing this or any other Big Think clip for commercial or private use, contact our licensing partner, Executive Interviews: https://bigth.ink/licensing ———————————————————————————- Follow Big Think here: 📰BigThink.com: https://bigth.ink 🧔Facebook: https://bigth.ink/facebook 🐦Twitter: https://bigth.ink/twitter 📸Instagram: https://bigth.ink/Instragram 📹YouTube: https://bigth.ink/youtube ✉ E-mail: info@bigthink.com

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5 Honest Truths About Starting A Business

After graduating from college, I’d wake up at six in the morning with one question in mind: Should I go all-in and focus exclusively on entrepreneurship — consequences be damned? Or look for a full-time job that gave me a sense of stability (and allowed me to make rent).

Let me rewind a bit. Back in 1999, while still studying computer science, I came up with my very first software product idea, a free open source membership program for a student website. Needless to say, I was beyond thrilled when this turned out to be an unexpected success. 

After receiving positive feedback from users, I decided to release a paid version that soon became lucrative. Just like that, I was an entrepreneur in the making.

Related: 8 Things You Need to Know Before Starting a Business

Friends insisted I follow my dream after graduating and jump in with both feet (a tempting choice for a twenty-something-year-old). 

But after all of the back and forth, I ended up deciding against the most seductive choice and listened to my gut instead.

Overnight success stories are overrated

This is not the story you were probably expecting. In the tech industry, you’ve likely read about fearless dreamers who launched their startups against all odds: Those who opted for building businesses from scratch rather than pursue the security of a nine to five job.

I get the allure of these stories. Overnight success isn’t impossible. But this narrative can be misleading when it makes people believe they should start a business before they’re ready.

I’m a fairly risk-averse person. Meaning, I think moderation is king when it comes to most things. So, what did I end up doing all those years ago? (It’s not as exciting as all those founders who went straight to the top of TechCrunch after graduating). 

I found a full-time job as a programmer for a New York media company. 

Related: How to Conquer Your Fear of Starting a Business

But here’s the thing: I didn’t give up on my dream. Instead, I used my day job to fuel my passion and learned valuable lessons about business and managing teams in the process. Five years later, I felt more prepared and confident to quit my job and to start my own company, JotForm.

Of course, during that time, I had the privilege of finding a job in the first place. 

Because of the current crisis, many of us are re-examining different aspects of our lives. 

You may be questioning whether you should turn your skills into a business, or maybe you are one of the tens of millions of Americans who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus recession and were forced to make this decision.

While new opportunities are always exciting, whatever your situation — more than anything, I’d like to advocate for following a grounded approach. 

Some real talk about entrepreneurship

In her fascinating article for Harvard Business Review, author Emily Heyward points out that there are a few things to consider before taking that blind leap with your business idea. 

“As a founder who works alongside many other founders, I’ve seen firsthand what leads to success, as well as what can go wrong,” Heyward writes. “It’s also never been more competitive. The barriers to entry for starting a new business keep getting lower, as technology becomes more accessible and user friendly.”

Related: Starting a Business Isn’t What You Think. Here’s What to Expect Instead.business

This is in no way to discourage you from trying. While Heyward describes the excitement of starting a new venture, she also offers a few guiding principles aspiring entrepreneurs should take to heart.

“However you come to your idea, you should feel like you have no choice but to start this particular business at this moment in time,” she says. In other words, a genuine connection to your idea is key to success.

I couldn’t agree more. As CEO of JotForm, I’d love to share the expert-backed tips and lessons I’ve learned over the years while bootstrapping my company to over seven million users.

Surround yourself with trusted mentors and colleagues

Unlike other entrepreneurs, I ended up deciding against having a co-founder to build my business with. However, this doesn’t mean I didn’t rely on incredibly smart people to help me along the way. 

Before you dive headfirst into your idea, make sure you’re surrounding yourself with the right people like mentors and colleagues who are a few steps ahead of where you want to be. 

Writing for Entrepreneur, Sheila Eugenio argues that in hard times, having a mentor can help us keep our head high: “The valuable connections, timely advice, occasional checks — together with the spiritual and moral guidance you will gain from having a mentor — will literally leapfrog you to success.”

Focus on value over competition

JotForm is bootstrapped, and we’ve never taken a dime from outside investments. Which is to say, we’re not necessarily the “cool kids” of the startup world. 

Here’s my point: There are always going to be competitors more popular than you. Hitting the front page of TechCrunch or playing the comparison game will get you nowhere. 

So, what does move the needle forward?

Focus on building value for your customers instead of chasing trends. As Heyward puts it: “It’s not about who’s first, it’s about who does it best, and best these days is the business that delivers the most value to the consumer.”

Keep asking yourself: How can I make the best product possible? How can I keep improving my services?

The bottom line: We reached over seven million users because we chose to listen instead of compare. 

Do it with passion or not at all

While there’s no way to know how long this recession will last, considering your role as a founder from the very beginning will go a long way in ensuring where your business ends up. 

“People care deeply about who’s behind the companies they’re purchasing from,” Heyward notes. “It’s hard to feel a personal connection to a nameless, faceless corporation, and far more rewarding to support brands that are built by individuals with a compelling story.”

Whatever you do, don’t be generic. Be willing to communicate with your consumers, share your purpose with them, and what’s driving your efforts. Developing an authentic voice and relationship with the people buying your products doesn’t just help you gain traction, it gives your work more meaning.

Perhaps Heyward put it best: “Recognize that the very long, exhilarating, terrifying, exhausting, but oh-so-rewarding journey ahead of you only begins when you fully commit to your vision and take control of your outcome.”

By: Aytekin Tank Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP / Entrepreneur / Founder and CEO, JotForm

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4 Ways Companies Can Foster a Culture of Giving Back

Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a pretty rough year in a lot of ways. The global economy took a significant gut-punch with an unprecedented level of unemployment, and news broadcasts highlighted record numbers of people turning to food banks for support. Maybe you know somebody who has lost their job this year, or maybe you’ve found yourself in that unfortunate boat. 

If that’s not the case, count yourself lucky, and do what you can to put a little bit more good out into the world. The holiday season — and specifically December — accounts for 30 percent of annual giving, but building a company culture where giving back is a year-round occurrence has numerous benefits. For starters, it just feels good to make a positive difference and that positivity trickles down through employees.

Companies that regularly participate in philanthropic causes report happier employees. As you may very well already know, happier employees make for more productive employees (13 percent more productive to be exact) and overall, a more productive and successful business

Giving back is good for your brand — plain and simple

Besides the impact of helping others — the most important reason to give — and overall happier employees, businesses that embrace the philanthropic spirit are regarded in a higher value by consumers. As former St. Louis Rams player Torry Holt points out, regarding the NFL’s relationship with United Way, “the act of giving back evokes emotion and fosters an authentic connection.” It’s that sort of relationship that today’s consumers take notice of in a business. According to a 2016 survey, the majority of millennials prefer companies that actively give to charity

Related: 4 Ways Your Company Benefits From Giving Back

When a company aligns itself with charitable causes it’s not just benefiting the direct recipients of that giving, but its employees, and customers. So now that we’ve touched upon the benefits of creating a culture of giving within a business, how can leaders go about actually weaving it into their company? 

1. Volunteer days

Encouraging a spirit of giving in your employees shouldn’t be difficult and there’s a good chance many of them already have causes that they’re passionate about. One of the best ways to fuel team members’ passions for these causes is through a day — or even week — of volunteering. The concept is simple and incredibly effective: a business sets aside a certain number of days where employees are given time to volunteer with the charity of their choice. 

Some companies may simply allow employees to pick any organization to work with, while others may offer a selection of charities or nonprofits for employees to choose from. Team leaders may also choose to go with a majority rule and have employees vote on which charities the company wants to align itself with for volunteer work. Building volunteer days into a business not only builds camaraderie between employees but foster relationships within the community. 

2. Lend your resources

Another big way that companies can make a positive impact in their communities is by taking the pro-bono route and lending their resources free of charge. If your business has some extra space that’s not being used on the weekends or at night, consider reaching out to a nonprofit and offering it. 

Related: Here Are Legitimate Fundraisers Helping Damaged and Destroyed Small Businesses

One of the most beneficial ways that a company can offer its resources is through the knowledge of its employees. Whether it’s by offering a company’s time through a mentorship program (such as graphic design) or through a pro-bono service (such as legal advice or tax preparation, for instance) for those less fortunate, these acts of charitable giving can build meaningful relationships and have a dramatic impact on the lives of others.  

3. Get your customers involved

We’ve already touched on the fact that consumers view charitable companies in a more positive light, so why not get those customers involved in the giving? It’s easy for a company to simply write a check and hand it over to a charity, but it’s more inclusive if they bring their customers into the act. Company matching programs are a fantastic way of doing this and with the right structure, can be a robust way of generating substantial fundraising.  

Another way to go about involving your customers is by encouraging recurring donations to a nonprofit. Applications like Donorbox or GoFundMe make it incredibly easy for businesses to incorporate giving into their existing website. Giving incentives that include the consumer not only can provide much needed financial support, but build a stronger connection between a business and its customer base.

4. Become an event sponsor

Sponsoring a charitable event in the community is another way businesses can both lend their support and weave a spirit of philanthropy into the existing company culture. There are endless ways a company can choose to go about sponsoring a community event. Simply making a financial contribution is probably the most common — and oftentimes the most needed — but even with that, there are options: raffles, silent auctions, etc.

Many times charitable events will also need volunteers or a place to host an event, so again, there are a variety of paths a business can choose to go down when it comes to sponsoring an event. Whether it’s financially, or through its resources, when a company aligns itself with a charitable event, it’s showing a level of commitment to the community it serves. 

Related: 3 Ways to Give Back That Don’t Require a Financial Investment

Business leaders should look at giving back as an investment and apply a similar ROI strategy when choosing how to give,  just as they would any business decision. Building a culture of giving within your business shouldn’t be complicated and incorporating several different strategies is going to yield the best results — both externally and internally.

Chris Porteous

By: Chris Porteous Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor / High Performance Growth Marketer

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You’re Not Actually Bad at Sales 3 Ways to Gain More Confidence

Sometimes, it’s not your abilities that let you down. It’s doubting yourself.

“When I was first getting clients, it felt like I had to fight objections in near hand-to-hand combat with the prospect,” Joshua Centers, founder of Clicks on Command, told me once. “They’d eventually tap out, and I became disheartened. It wasn’t that I couldn’t sell; it was that I doubted whether I could pull it off. I was not confident, and it was affecting my sales.”

This experience is very common with entrepreneurs, and though sales isn’t everyone’s forte, it’s possible to get better at it. You may feel you’re bad at sales because of your lack of experience selling, and you’ll try to make up for it by taking courses, reading books and watching videos to close that gap.

However, the best way to improve your sales performance — and performance in other areas — is actually to improve your confidence first. Confidence has been shown to positively affect performance in many areas, from school to athletics to the workplace. Here are three ways to boost your confidence and sell more.

Related: Self-Confidence Is the Best Motivation for Chasing Your Goals

1. Learn more about your product

One of the reasons you may feel less confident in sales is not because you don’t know sales, but because you don’t know your product well enough. When you need notes or even a presentation to sell a product, you don’t know it well enough.

This doesn’t mean that visual or written aids can’t help you sell. But if you couldn’t talk about the product without using these aids, then there’s a problem. The more comfortable you are with the product, the more confident you are in your own ability to talk about it.

Take the time to learn about your product. What does it really do? How does it work? How has it helped your current clients? What do they like about it? Being able to handle the details of the product and speak about it more qualitatively will make a huge difference.

Even further, this familiarity comes across in your sales conversation, making you appear more relaxed, knowledgeable, and assertive — all of which help you sell.

2. Build an arsenal of what already converted

There’s a reason companies use case studies to sell: They work. People like reviews, unboxings, data and evidence that a product actually does what you say it does. However, beyond being more convincing, knowing what already worked can help your confidence.

Instead of making an empty promise to a customer in your sales pitch, bring up examples of when you used the product to successfully grow another client. In digital marketing, I can present a funnel that I know has already converted leads for my clients.

The more you believe in your own product, with actual examples and evidence to back you up, the more confident you’ll be in it — and in your ability to sell it.

Related: 4 Mistakes You’re Probably Making If You’re Struggling to Close a Sale

3. Use the DIP method

Centers, who I quoted at the beginning of this article, uses a method he calls the DIP Method to organize and close his sales conversations. DIP stands for Discover, Identify, Position.

The DIP Method focuses on finding your customer’s needs and targeting them. Instead of jumping into why your product is so great, you should find the reasons why your customer needs your product and how it can be the best solution for their problems.

  • Discover: Ask your customer some questions. How many leads do you have right now? What is your offer? What marketing efforts are you currently conducting? Don’t interrupt them or answer for them in this part. Let them talk to you about what they’re doing in their marketing and lead-capturing, without filters or expectations.
  • Identify: Based on their answers, you should know what problems they’re having. Do they have little to no leads? Do they have a problem converting leads? Are they not running any marketing at all? Identify the problems and relay them back to your customer so they can confirm them. Often, the customer may not recognize them for themselves, but since you’re basing it on the answers they gave, they can easily accept them to be true.
  • Position: Here’s where you shine. Position your product or service to solve the problems you and the customer identified. Tell them you and your product can help and explain how. This is where you make your sales pitch, getting into benefits, features and pricing. However, it should always be focused on solving the problems they’ve identified.

Following the DIP Method gives you confidence, not only in your process but also in knowing that your product can actually help your customer. If you’ve built confidence in your product, your process and yourself, you can more effectively sell and promote your product and business.

JC Hite

JC Hite Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor – CEO / Founder of Hite Digital

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6 Signs Your Fear of Failure Is Holding You Back Without You Even Knowing It

1

What’s holding you back from starting a business? Wait… don’t tell me. I already know.If you’re anything like most would-be entrepreneurs I’ve talked to, you’re afraid. Yes, you, with the big dreams, the killer ideas, and the jaw-droppingly impressive skill set.

You’re a scaredy-cat. Hey, that’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Most of the time, I’m totally scared, too. Fear of is extremely common, especially among us entrepreneurs.

And with everything going on right now, there’s more fear swirling around than ever. With businesses closing, layoffs, and furloughs, your fear of the uncertainty that lies ahead is totally justifiable.

Related: Book a one-on-one coaching session with Kim Perell right now

But here’s the thing: most of us aren’t especially eager to admit our fear to ourselves… or anyone else, for that matter. Instead, maybe you tend to come up with excuses for why you don’t take the leap and head out on your own. You might snuggle up in your , insisting that you’d way rather keep working your boring job than embrace your creative side and start a wildly profitable side hustle where you are the boss.

I know better. And you can, too. Once you recognize the signs and acknowledge that fear is the main thing that’s holding you back, you can finally start to conquer your fears and take control of your life — no matter how uncertain the future may feel right now.

Here are a few telltale signs your fear of failure is currently holding you back – whether you’ve already admitted it to yourself or not.

1. You hesitate to try new things

When a friend of yours asks you to try a restaurant, get set on a blind date, try a new sport or something else you’ve never done before, your answer is usually a quick “Nah.” You prefer to stick to things you already know.

You choose your battles carefully, only agreeing to take on select challenges you’re really confident you’ll succeed in. This may seem totally trivial when it comes to social events – but in business, it can have serious consequences. Choosing to avoid any possible chance of failure by turning down new experiences can cause you to avoid taking risks, developing new skills, and creating something exciting. All because you’re afraid of failure.

Related: 3 Relationships That Will Build the Tribe Every Entrepreneur Deserves

If this sounds like you, make it a goal to say “YES” the next time someone invites you to try something new. Embrace those scenarios as an opportunity to step outside your comfort zone.

2. You’re settling for less than you deserve

You absolutely adore your creativity-stifling, monotonous job. You’re thrilled with your non-committal partner who isn’t really all that nice to you. No, it’s not that you’re afraid of change – you’re just ecstatic at the thought of living every single day the exact same way as you have for the last year.

While being content with your current circumstances is a good quality, being complacent is not. The is, you really do have the power to improve your situation and change your life. But in order to do so, you’ll have to admit that you want (and deserve!) more. You’ll have to take a . Yes, you’ll have a higher chance of failure that way – but you’ll also have a much, MUCH higher chance of living the life of your dreams.

If this sounds like you, set aside some time to take stock of your life. Consider your job, your relationships, and your current situation. What are you happy with? What do you wish was different? Then, start brainstorming a few changes you could make in order to make your life closer to how you wish it was. Focus on the good that could come from facing your fears, making a change and taking a step toward progress.

3. You insist you’re not afraid of anything

Spiders? Yawn. Crippling ? Bring it on. Failure? Whatever.

Sorry, but I’m calling your bluff. Everyone’s afraid of something — and entrepreneurs have plenty to be afraid of. Fear is a natural human emotion. No matter how cool or capable you are, I guarantee you’ve felt afraid from time to time. And I’m willing to bet it’s influenced plenty of decisions you’ve made, too. Denying your fear doesn’t make it go away — in fact, allowing your fear to hide away in the shadows only gives it more power over your life.

Related: How Resilience Led Me to Success

If this sounds like you, it’s time to get really honest and vulnerable with yourself. Take some time to think about what you’re truly afraid of. Write down your fears and acknowledge what you are really afraid of. Then, you’ll be able to start addressing and overcoming your fears rather than living in a state of denial.

4. You tend to fall apart when things start going south

Whenever you fail, even in a small way, you feel like YOU’RE a failure. Your self-talk gets especially negative whenever things are going bad. You thrive when things are smooth-sailing – but you tend to view any challenges up ahead as disasters, not opportunities.

If this sounds like you, your mindset is the main thing that needs changing. Work on embracing failure as an opportunity to grow. Surround yourself with positive influences and work on keeping your self-talk positive, no matter your circumstances.

5. You tend to judge other people based on their success or failure

When you see someone who’s uber-successful, you assume it’s because they’re a really incredible person. When you see someone who’s failed, you assume they must have done something wrong, or maybe they’re just not cut out for this sort of thing. (When really, this might just be one step on their long road to success.)

Pay to how you look at failure & success when it doesn’t involve you personally. That’s a great insight into your beliefs about it.

If this sounds like you, try to focus on your internal qualities and effort rather than external success when you’re assessing where you’re at. Also, do your best not to compare yourself to others – it’s great to learn from the successes and failures of other people, but it’s unproductive to measure yourself against them. Everyone is on a different place in their journey, their middle may be your starting point.

6. You make excuses

There are approximately a million reasons why you can’t, or shouldn’t, or won’t start a business right now. You don’t have enough money, you’re super busy, there’s a pandemic going on, you’ve got too much on your plate, it’s too hot outside, you’re tired, your psychic told you now’s not the time, you’re pretty sure your awesome idea actually sucks.

Fear is fluent in excuses. Sure, all of those excuses might be founded in truth – but if you really want to start a business, no excuse should ever be powerful enough to hold you back. That’s a surefire sign that your fear is the real thing holding you back.

If this sounds like you, address your excuses head-on. Take a moment to write down all of the reasons you think you can’t start a business right now. Then, take them one at a time and consider how you might overcome them if you had to start today. For example, if you think you can’t start a business because you don’t have any money – could you find a way to get started without cash? If you’re too busy — could you eliminate something from your schedule to free up some time?

Once you acknowledge what you’re really afraid of, you can start making real progress toward your goals — without the fear of failure standing between you and your dreams.

If you’re really serious about starting something new instead of letting your fear keep holding you back, enroll in the Side Hustle Accelerator to get everything you need to start and launch your business. Click here to join today.

The Side Hustle Accelerator program developed by our VIP expert Kim Perell is full of amazing content including a hand-picked directory of 100+ Side Hustles you can start today! This step-by-step program was built for anyone ready to start their side hustle. Get started today and take advantage of our special discount. 

By: Kim Perell Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

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7 Franchisees Share Lessons from the Pandemic

Survival wasn’t easy – but for these entrepreneurs, there was no alternative.
Jason Feifer and Stephanie Schomer
Magazine Contributor
9 min read

This story appears in the July 2020 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Jennifer Perkins, franchisee, Main Squeeze Juice Co.

Taking care of the team

Jennifer Perkins owns two Main Squeeze Juice Co. locations just outside New Orleans with her brother, Andrew Blackwell. When his wife gave birth to twins mid-March, Andrew joined his family in quarantine — and Jennifer found herself navigating a without her partner.

“It’s been really hard,” she says. “Not to mention I haven’t gotten to meet my nieces! But safety is what’s important, more than anything.”

That’s true of their businesses, too. Their juice and smoothie shops have required a dramatic increase in safety precautions, and while foot traffic has dwindled, drive-through purchases have quadrupled. Inside, Perkins is working overtime to keep her staff healthy and comfortable.

Related: 5 Things to Do to Transition Your Business From Partially Closed to Reopened

“A lot of our younger staff’s parents wanted them to quarantine with them, and that makes sense,” she says. “But it did leave us shorthanded, so for the team members who committed to go through this with us, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.”

As they’ve taken on extra shifts, longer shifts, and the increased pressure of serving items in a pandemic, Perkins has hustled to hire additional support staff and make sure her team members aren’t stretching themselves too thin.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as sending someone home a little early and letting them know that the store will be OK,” she says. “Sometimes it’s making sure our high school employees have the time to take their classes on Zoom and keep up with their schoolwork. Our team has been the backbone of this business, and we’re finding new ways to support each other.”

It has paid off: Sales for the month of April were stronger in 2020 than in 2019.

“I can’t lie and say that any of this was super easy or super planned,” Perkins says. “I had my moments of doubt and panic: Are we doing the right thing? Is this the right way to handle it? But now that we know we’ve come out on top, it’s a super proud moment for our team.”

Regal Patel, franchisee, Pieology

Taking care of your own Town

Owning a pizza shop is all about serving your community. So when the Pieology in Stamford, Conn., closed its dining room in the wake of COVID-19, its owners only got busier.

“We’re not doctors or nurses, but we needed to do something,” says Regal Patel, who owns the location with friends Nishant Patel and Sahil Patel (pictured, from left). “We have pizza, and we have food — let’s keep our community fed.”

The trio and their team (whom they managed to keep employed and busy with delivery and takeout orders) got to work assembling care packages of food and pizzas to distribute throughout the community and to the frontline workers at local hospitals. They started including a roll of toilet paper to deliver a laugh along with the food — and realized that their stock of supplies could be even more impactful than pie.

Related: Why This Family Is Betting Their Future on Franchising

“It’s always safety first at restaurants,” Regal says. “So we contacted our glove supplier and were able to order and donate 6,000 pairs of gloves to a local hospital, and they were just like, ‘Holy Jesus, that’s a lot of gloves for one business to give!’ ”

With pizza sales down and their charitable efforts up, Patel and his co-owners are stretching their wallets thin. “We’re doing this out of our own pocket, and there’s no profit at the right now,” he says.

But as they waited to reopen their dining room, they even doubled down with the brand and launched takeout at a new, second location that was originally put on pause as the pandemic spread. “We know that it will operate differently than restaurants of the past,” Regal says. “But now is the time to adapt and create a new blueprint to serve.”

Patty Clisham, franchisee, Ductz

Maintaining transparency — for staff and customers

Patty Clisham purchased her Ductz franchise — which conducts HVAC restoration and air duct cleaning—in 2007. “And six months later, the went to crap,” she says.

Looking back, she envies the clarity she had at that difficult time. “We could see where that crisis was coming from and why,” Clisham says. “But now, this, this is an unknown adversary.”

And for her business — one that requires sending employees into people’s homes — COVID-19 is an adversary that has changed everything. Clisham used to be booked out for three weeks; now she’s booking week to week. Two months into the pandemic and she’d already lost $60,000 compared with 2019. And the jobs that are coming through require extra care.

Related: Buying a Franchise Post-Pandemic

“We’re disinfecting tools, taking temperatures before a job, wearing masks, wiping down switch plates and doorknobs or anything that we touched,” she says. “We have to make our customers comfortable and share that process with them.”

Clisham has been transparent with her team, as well. She counts herself as one of the lucky business owners who received a loan (she says a good relationship with her bank helped her file for relief as soon as possible, and quickly) and was up front with employees about what the months ahead may look like.

“I sat my guys down and said, ‘Look, we’re not going to have a lot of work,’ ” she says. “ ‘But you’re going to get paid, and I want you to stick with me through this, because when we come out of it, we’ll be OK.’ ”

She knows a lot of other business owners can’t say the same.

“We’re going to make it through this because of the PPP money, I’ll tell you that,” she says. “I tend to have about three months’ worth of payroll and emergency funds set away, but when you don’t have any money coming in from jobs, that will go fast. I’m so thankful we got that relief.”

Meghana Patel, franchisee, Kumon

Lending support, asking for support

Meghana Patel was scheduled to open her first Kumon learning center on April 15 in Valdosta, Ga. But when statewide shelter-in-place orders made it clear that she would not be able to open the doors to her new after-school destination as scheduled, Patel considered hitting pause on the whole operation — until she heard from her would-be customers.

“Parents we had spoken to were panicking, and had expressed interest in maintaining some kind of schedule for their kids,” she says. “So we decided to open up early, on April 1, to help those families.”

Lessons at Kumon — which focus on math and reading for students ages 3 to 18 — quickly shifted to the digital realm as the crisis spread across the country, and Patel, who’d just completed her initial training with the company, found herself seeking support once again.

Related: Why Every Franchise Should Pivot Right Now

“I was nervous; you know, I had never used Zoom before,” Patel says with a laugh. “So to have the company there, ready to walk me through it every single day and have them lay out a plan to conduct lessons that way, really made me comfortable and confident.”

She is still participating in weekly digital training sessions hosted by the company, but as shelter-at-home orders have been lifted in Georgia, Patel is also starting to figure out what in-person classes may look like. “Kumon has sent us all the PPE and hand sanitizers we’ll need. We have a daily sanitation plan in place, and I’m limiting all in-person lessons to just two to five kids, no more,” she says.
But it won’t be business as usual for some time: “Some parents are comfortable coming in for lessons, others are not. But we’re in a position now to accommodate whatever way they and their kids want to learn.”

Mike Ziegenbalg, franchisee, Dream Vacations

Crafting your pitch for the moment

Dream Vacations franchisee Mike Ziegenbalg sells travel — especially cruise bookings — for a living. That seems like a tall order now, when planes look scary and virus-filled ships were the subject of horror-show news stories. Despite all that, Ziegenbalg booked 32 people on a cruise while his customers were locked away at home…and he plans to book a lot more.

His secret: It starts with a foundation he laid seven years ago, when he started a “travel club” in his community. It’s a regular gathering of people with wanderlust, who talk about travel and learn about new destinations. The club has 500 members — and when his home state of Georgia went into lockdown, he decided to keep the club going virtually. “My belief is people want to travel again and are ready,” he says. They need something to look forward to.

The missing piece, therefore, was trust: They needed the confidence that cruising was safe. So he focused on a small cruise in Egypt set for late 2021, and said he’d be going, too. (Translation: The size felt safe, the timing felt right, and his presence means he stands behind his sales pitch.) It worked, and he learned an important lesson: “Don’t just wait for them to call or come to you,” he says. “Clear your mind and come up with new ideas and solutions.”

By: Jason Feifer and Stephanie Schomer Magazine Contributor

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