Entrepreneur Empowerment Blog

Virginia's Growth Alliance provides advice to entrepreneurs and helps guide them to the right resources.

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Recent blog posts

Microloan Fund Making Dreams a Reality

Posted in New Businesses

“When I started the Horseshoe Restaurant, my focus was not on just the locals, because inevitably in any small town, you are going to bring a support base of local people, but it was very important to try to pull people off of the interstates and the highways and from around the lakes and the tourist areas to give them something that was unique and had a lot of character and history to it, and really promote and build on that. I think we have been really successful in doing that and it has allowed us the opportunity to really bring a bigger audience into the town of South Hill.” says Scott Rogers, Owner of the Horseshoe Restaurant, South Hill, Virginia.

Now operating for five and a half years and 23 employees strong, Scott saw another opportunity in the town of Boydton.

“I think that Boydton is probably one of the most beautiful towns in Southern Virginia. I see a lot of opportunities here to create experiences for people. The pharmacy in Boydton had a small space, and a good offer that did not require a lot of up-front investment.”

Scott heard about the Microloan Fund from Virginia’s Growth Alliance, where he learned that he could get up to $40,000 to help execute his vision.

“Seeking another funding source would have required much more of my time and resources, so having this available really helped us to keep things moving. The bank processes are so lengthy and time consuming.

I submitted the paperwork, and a week and a half later, we were able to get the funding

and put it in the bank in a very short time, so it was very helpful. We used the funds to help build out the space in the pharmacy, fittingly named, The Apothecary" -  A quaint coffee shop, offering sandwiches, salads, and more. Scott says the folks at the Southside PDC in South Hill were very easy to work with and helped him accomplish what he needed.

Quick Service Restaurants are growing more popular in urban areas, where you can provide a service for the people in town during the day, and they can be out the door and eating in a matter of minutes. The town of Boydton does not have an enormous population, but certainly has its share of citizens there to conduct business throughout the day.

Scott believes that by offering something unique in a place with character, you will attract not only the local folks, but hopefully some off the highway as well. His hope is to spawn more businesses using this same model, to be successful in other small towns, where business-only districts are all too prominent.

The Southside PDC administers Mecklenburg County's Lake Country Revolving Loan Fund for Mecklenburg, Halifax and Brunswick Counties, as well as the VGA's PackFund, available to businesses throughout the entire VGA region of Amelia, Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Greensville, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Prince Edward and the City of Emporia.

For more information about how you can qualify, visit: thinkbiggervga.com/packfund or call Jeff Reed at 434-200-8066.

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VGA's tools for your success - Small Biz loans and initiatives

Posted in Operations

It's hard to start a new business and be successful; that's why a full 50% of new businesses are out of business after 4 years.

VGA is looking out for you, though, and has a number of initiatives to help support your business and position you for success.

Here in the VGA region, we recognize that the majority of new jobs and business growth comes from small business. We also recognize that local businesses are more dedicated to the community, give more to local non-profits, and help to make our communities more unique – which in turn boosts our tourism efforts and makes the region more desirable as a place to live.

As a result, we have dedicated a large part of our mission to promoting an entrepreneurial environment and supporting small businesses. Take a look at what we're doing:

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New Micro Loan Program!

Posted in Operations

Great news for entrepreneurs looking start a new business or expand their current business! VGA is launching our new Pack Fund micro loan program, through which you can borrow up to $40,000 at low interest rates.

Whether you're looking to buy new equipment, launch a new product line, or just grow your business, the Pack Fund is a great opportunity for those who may not be able to get a bank loan.

A limited number of loans will be made, so don't delay in applying!

FIND OUT MORE HERE!

Tagged in: cashflow finance growth
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Mind your own business

Posted in Marketing

Free Programs To Help Entrepreneurs Use Their Minds In Their Business

Virginia's Growth Alliance economic development region has developed an innovative entrepreneurial initiative called Think Bigger, and businesses who participate in the following programs will automatically earn bonus points to qualify for funding from VGA's new revolving loan fund.

The failure to plan is at the root of most small business failures, where the old adage, “fail to plan, plan to fail,” couldn't be truer. VGA is here to help.

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6 FREE workshops to your own social media marketing plan

Posted in News

CREATE A SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING PLAN IN 6 FREE WORKSHOPS!

To take full advantage of the workshops, you should come to every session.

One outstanding participant AND their VGA member community will win $750 in free design services - that's $1500 total!

A few of the topics covered will include:

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Why Narrowing Your Target Market May Be the Key To Growth

Are you struggling to grow your business? Feel like you work all the time and can never get ahead? If so, you probably feel like you need to add more services or go after a wider range of customers. Hold on, though! That may be the worst thing you could do.

Ironically, often businesses need to specialize or find a very narrow niche in order to grow fast or be able to charge more.

By narrowing your target market, it's easier to zero in on who your best customers would be. When you focus on these customers - whether through demographics or a certain industry sector - you'll find that they also notice you more. Remember the saying "by speaking to everyone you're speaking to no one." Figure out who you want to speak to and then find your voice.

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Using Twitter for business research

Posted in Operations

Most people think of Twitter as a a purely social or news site, but they never consider that it gives them direct access to what millions of people the world over are thinking, saying, and doing at any given time. By tuning in to conversations, you can learn a lot about things like what people value or think is important, how your competitors are perceived, and how the market is reacting to new products.

Think of Twitter as being able to read text messages from all over the world.

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Free worksheets to plan your blog

Posted in Marketing

Did you know that writing regular blog posts on your website is the #1 way to drive traffic to your site?

There are several reasons:

  • Search engines love fresh content and when you post regularly to your blog, they'll return to crawl your site more frequently. This means your content will be indexed more quickly.
  • With each new blog post you'll have more content indexed for possible search matches. Think of each post as having an extra raffle ticket.
  • Blog posts are by nature usually rich in relevant keywords.

Read on to download these free blog calendar planning worksheets and learn how to use them.

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A Reddit post turns into a million-dollar business

In this day of memes and viral posts, you just never know when you might accidentally create the next big thing.

In September, 2012 Bryan Bundesen posted a photo of his sister's perpetually grumpy-looking cat, Tardar Sauce, on Reddit and it took off as a meme. When Bryan saw the response he uploaded more photos and videos and registered the domain name www.grumpycats.com. Within 3 months, Bryan and his sister had made $3,000 each.

They trademarked "Grumpy Cat" and her image at the end of January 2013. Grumpy Cat was featured on the front page of The Wall Street Journal on May 30, 2013 and on the cover of New York magazine on October 7, 2013.

As of September 8, 2014, "The Official Grumpy Cat" on Facebook had over 6.5 million likes. Tardar Sauce has been in movies and TV commercials, has books on Amazon, and her likeness and name is licensed to countless products - even coffee.

Did Bryan plan to start a business when he uploaded that first photo? No. What he did, though, was to recognize an opportunity and take advantage of it.

Keep your eyes and ears open, think entrepreneurially, and the next big thing might just be your idea.

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Fast changes in technology make today like a new Gold Rush

If you're like most people reading this section of the site, you weren't even born before the internet became mainstream. Life without Google, Instagram, Reddit? Impossible!

You have no idea how much opportunity awaits you as compared to those of us who grew up pre-internet.

If you can imagine the difference made in our country after events like inventing the lightbulb or automobile, discovering gold in California and Alaska, running railroad tracks from the east to west coast of the US, and building interstates across the country, you may have some idea of the watershed era we're in.

Each new advancement in technology literally creates the opportunity for entrepreneurs to not only create new products, but to also solve problems that didn't even exist before!

Before interstates crossed America, most trucking companies served regionally; the interstate system created the opportunity to move large amounts of products virtually anywhere in the country.

The lightbulb allowed people to stop getting up at sunrise and going to bed at dark, which made our schedules much more flexible. Can you imagine a store being open until 11pm if it were lit by oil lamps? Now we have businesses that are open 24 hours per day, and manufacturers that run shifts around the clock.

The Gold Rush created the foundation for a brand new economy in California. Suddenly there were not only more people, but they also had more money. They needed places to stay and eat, ways to entertain themselves, and clothes to wear. It didn't matter that you weren't actually out mining for gold because you could strike it rich serving the people who were.

Levi Strauss actually invented blue jeans with rivets to make them more durable for miners. The slogan was "For Men Who Toil." The company went on to become the world's largest pants manufacturer, and obviously sold to many more types of customers than men who toil.

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Don't ruin your personal brand

Everybody talks about business brands but you won't hear about personal brands often. That's because it's one of the things that many people feel uncomfortable with. They worry that telling you to be well-groomed or not wear baggy clothes will be taken as an insult - or worse, even as racism or bigotry.

The truth is that everybody makes some type of judgement of others based on what they're wearing, how they speak, and how well they're groomed. Ignore this fact at your own peril - especially if you're courting investors or financiers. Your personal brand isn't only based on visuals, but they're a big part of it because that's what people see first.

If you're honest with yourself you know that you also make judgements based on appearance. It's part of the way we find people with whom we have things in common, or not so much in common.

We often describe a brand as being "what people think of you when you're not in the room." Stop and think for a minute what your initial reaction is when you think of seeing the people described below.

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Basic Small Business personnel management

Posted in Operations

We're not talking about personnel administration here - this is about the actual management of your people.

There have been hundreds of thousands of books written on personnel management, but in a small business there are only a small number of things you have to do to succeed.  

    1. Hire people you feel you can trust to get the job done and let them do it.
    2. Reward these people.
    3. If they show they can't do the job, don't hesitate to send them packing.
    4. One bad employee can bring the whole business down around your ears.
    5. As you expand and grow, provide training and support to your people.
    6. Always let your employees know what is expected of them and encourage dialog and feedback.  There are a lot of good ideas out there that you've never thought of or considered.
    7. Appreciate your employees and let them know they're appreciated.
    8. Delegate whenever possible.  The more you can delegate the better handle you can have on the whole organization and the overall management of the company.

That's it!  All the other stuff is fluff and filler. Do these things and you can spend the rest your time running the company and making money.

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Building your team

Posted in Operations

Your ability to find, develop and retain the best people to work in your organization is a challenge that all business owners have, and your company's success depends on keeping talented people from leaving your company. The key is to create a work culture that is hard to walk away from.

It's important to realize that people don't leave companies, they leave people.

You need to know your team. Each person has resources that can contribute to your company's. growth and success. If an employee is not performing, address the situation and give them a chance to improve. If no change occurs, dismiss them. Often it is found that 10% of your workforce is probably underperforming. As a matter of fact, Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, used to get rid of the bottom 10% of his employees every year. According to him, “there is no sugarcoating this, they have to go.”

Your position as business owner is not to be their boss, but their coach. You are their guiding force, pushing them to excel.

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5 Entrepreneurial Business Models

There are innumerable business models, but a few are more common options for people who are interested in starting their own business.

These include E-Commerce, Franchise, Network Marketing (or MLM), Consulting, and a Home-Based Business. Read on for more information about each.

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What is a Business Model?

When you're thinking of starting a business, you'll inevitably be asked "What's your business model?" This may sound formal and scary, but it's not a trick question or one that requires you to have an advanced degree.

When someone asks you what your business model is, they're basically just asking how you plan to make a profit. There are many factors that go into that question, though. The following are a few questions you should consider:

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A simplified look at budgets

All businesses are built on a simple profit model. Revenues (money made from sales of services and goods) minus Fixed and Variable costs = Profits.

Revenues come from the sales of products and/or services and the receipt of this money is critical in the cash flow of any business. Incoming cashflow from loans helps cashflow, but is not included in Revenues when you calculate your profit. We'll

Fixed costs consist of items such as rent, insurance, mortgage and equipment lease; if you have salaried employees, these costs would also be fixed. These costs stay constant month to month so are easy to budget for.

Variable costs include items such as utilities, office supplies, automobile expenses, hourly labor, materials used in producing your products, and miscellaneous expenses. These costs can vary each month depending on the work load of the business and, in the case of items like utilities, the season of the year.

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Sandwich Marketing™- create your perfect combo

Posted in Marketing

There are innumerable ways to market but that doesn't mean that you can or should try to use all of them.

Like making or ordering a sandwich, you need to pick what's right for you at that point in time and in that situation.

Sandwich Marketing™ is a concept developed by Glerin Business Resources to help clients combine marketing resources in an effective manner. Your choices should vary according to considerations like target market, cost, and what you have the resources to execute.

Say you like hamburgers. One day you may want a ½ pound monster burger fully loaded, and another you may want a small child-sized burger with only ketchup, mustard and onions. You can have many reasons for making the choice you do at any given time: how hungry you are, how much money you can or want to spend, who you're eating with, or even what's available.

Consider the following analogies:

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Accepting credit cards is good business

I wish I had known how important (and easy) it is to take credit cards as payment before I started my business.

When I started my business I did not take credit cards. I didn't want to pay any of the fees associated with accepting credit cards as payment. I got paid with checks, money orders and cash. My payment policy changed only about a month after I opened my business.

All it took was one bad check for me to rethink how I got paid. I contacted a company that allowed me to process credit cards over a mobile phone app and I was able to accept credit and debit cards as payment before the end of the week. I started taking credit cards. I stopped taking checks.

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Trying to save money on professional services can cost you

If you need help with something that should be done by a professional, you should get help from a professional.

Many people think that they can save money by doing the work of an attorney and accountant by themselves they will save money. If you have never been a lawyer or an accountant then acting as a lawyer and accountant will save your business money only if your time is worth nothing.

If you had a toothache you wouldn't go to the hardware store and buy a power drill. You would go to the dentist and get help from a professional with training, experience, tools and medicine.

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How to Write a Business Plan

"He who fails to plan is planning to fail"... Benjamin Franklin

Your business plan will serve as the road map you'll follow as you build your business. The plan isn't fixed in stone and can be adapted as circumstances change, but having a plan to work within will help you stay focused on your goals. Any possible investor or loan source will also want to see your business plan to help determine whether your business is a good risk for them.

Some items that should be covered in your business plan include:

  • a description of your company, its mission, and its business model.
  • a description of the product or service you will sell, your target market, and how you will reach that market.
  • competitor analysis and strategies to provide you with an advantage.
  • information about the key team members who will be building the business. Many times it will only be you, but you may have other partners or possibly an important hire lined up.
  • cashflow projections for at least a year, including possible sources of funding, problems that may arise and how you will deal with them.
  • a damage control plan for how you would deal with possible negative scenarios such as product obsolesence or a large decrease in sales.

There's no need to go it alone when creating your business plan, though. You can use the Small Business Administration's online Business Plan Tool to help.

 

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