5 Key Reasons to Forecast Your Cash Flow

Projecting your cash flow can help you plan for the future, avoid unexpected shortfalls and even qualify for a small business loan.

Many overextended small business owners are weary of cash flow analysis. “Analysis” of any kind sounds difficult, and who has the time or energy to make future projections? More importantly, why bother to forecast your cash flow?

Consider that poor cash flow is the number one reason small businesses fail. An alarming 82% of companies fail due to cash flow issues. Convinced you don’t need to worry because your business is profitable? Think again. Profitable companies fail all the time for the simple reason that they run out of cash.

Beyond keeping your doors open, forecasting your cash flow can take the guesswork out of where you’re going. Having a good idea of your direction can help you make smarter business decisions. A little planning goes a long way, and it doesn’t have to be difficult.

These days, intuitive online tools can do the hard work for you, automatically generating cash flow projections based on your past transactions and financial history. No spreadsheets required.

There are myriad benefits to forecasting your cash flow, from avoiding dips into the negative to planning for growth. Consider these five ways that cash flow projections can improve your business.

Avoid Shortfalls

Unexpected shortfalls can be crippling, and it may take months (if not longer) to recover. Negative cash flow can creep up on you if you don’t consistently track the cash coming in and going out. Fortunately, shortfalls are often avoidable with a bit of foresight.

Projecting your cash flow will help you identify — and plan for — market swings, seasonal fluctuations and other business patterns that can lead to unpredictable cash flow. Forecasting can even help you visualize cash flow trends with the help of automatically generated charts and graphs.

Optimize the Timing of Accounts Payable and Receivable

On a more granular level, many avoidable cash flow issues are often a simple matter of timing. Significant lag time between invoicing your customers, or shipping out products, and getting paid can cause unnecessary strain on your cash flow.

Cash flow projections that are based on your financial history can help you anticipate when you’ll be paid by customers. This allows you to stagger or otherwise adjust outgoing payments to your vendors accordingly. In turn, this can keep you from dipping into the red.  And keeps you out of the uncomfortable position of not being able to pay your suppliers, or worse, your employees.

Prove You Can Pay Back the Loan You Requested

 When you apply for a small business loan, lenders will scrutinize your cash flow history in an attempt to answer one primary question: Can this borrower pay back the loan they’re requesting?

Asking for a loan of any amount without showing your plan for paying it back is a good way to land in the rejection pile. This is especially true if your current cash flow won’t clearly cover all of your regular operating expenses — plus your loan payment.

If you find yourself in this situation, cash flow projections can help strengthen your case by showing the lender exactly how you plan to use their funds to get to a place where you can easily make loan payments. This type of forecasting allows you to hand over a road map that can instill a lender with the confidence they need to approve your loan.

Anticipate the Impact of Upcoming Changes

Does your business plan to purchase new equipment? Launch a new product? Cash flow projections allow you to gain a complete picture of the ripple effect that these types of changes will have on your cash flow.

When your finances are synced up with FINSYNC, cash flow projections are automatically generated based on future invoices, bills due and payroll. You can then create “what if” scenarios, such as buying new equipment. Forecasting shows you how the cost will affect your bottom line.  It can also show the potential increase of revenue generated by the new machine.

Plan for Future Growth

In the same manner, cash flow projections can help you plan for future growth and expansion. Whether you’re expanding your team with new employees and need to factor in increased payroll costs, or ramping up production to keep up with increased sales, future projections help you see exactly where you’re going — and how you’ll get there.

Forecasting is also an excellent goal-setting tool to help you plan out the financial steps your business needs to take to achieve targets. There’s power in cash flow projections and the insight they can provide your business. Fortunately, this competitive advantage comes with little effort when you leave the analysis to today’s sophisticated online tools.

 

Guest post by FINSYNC


Boost Productivity (and Give Your Brain a Break) with Mini Escapes

As a business owner, you often have little down time. But even if you can’t take a vacation, it’s important to relax and recharge. Even taking a short intermission can boost productivity by giving your brain a break.

While it might sound counter intuitive, taking time to relax can actually make you more efficient. The science behind taking small breaks says being calmer and happier releases dopamine which can be important for increasing your creativity according to Alice Flaherty, an associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Here are a few ways to take a mini escape while managing a business.

Got a minute?

Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Researchers have found this method helps quickly relax the body’s central nervous system by having a longer exhale than inhale.

  1. Start by making an audible exhale of all the air in your lungs.
  2. Close your mouth and slowly inhale your breath, through your nose for a count of four seconds.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of seven seconds.
  4. Open your mouth and audibly exhale for a count of eight.
  5. Repeat the cycle several times.

Got 2 minutes?

Do calisthenics for beginners with a 2-minute workout. These simple body weight-bearing exercises are known for building lean muscles and help feel energized by clearing your bloodstream to reduce stress.

Here’s what Cari Shoemate, co-creator of Bombshell Bootcamp in Houston, recommended to the Daily Burn to get your heart rate going and rejuvenate your sluggish body if you’ve been staring at a computer for too long.

Do: 25 jumping jacks, 25 wall or desk push-ups, 25 alternating lunges, 25 squats

Here’s other tips from Karl Erickson, a retired green beret who spent nearly 20 years in Army Special Forces.

Got 5 minutes?

To mediate, start by finding a relaxed seated position on a chair or on the floor. Keep your back upright, but not too tense, with your hands resting in a comfortable position, says Diana Winston of Mindful.org.

Listen to this 5-minute meditation by Winston to help guide you through an experience.

Got 10 minutes?

Take a walk in some green space. Being in nature can reap big rewards. It can improve your attention span and rejuvenate your body. Gazing at nature can make you more productive.

That’s according to a 2015 study by British Journal of Sports Medicine which found people can reduce brain fatigue by walking a half-mile through a park.

Got 15 minutes?

Try doing progressive muscle relaxation. Also called PMR, this deep-relaxation technique helps people with chronic pain, but it can also help with relaxing your body by reducing stress and anxiety.

The idea is to tense and relax your muscles, one muscle group at a time.

  • Start by taking some deep breaths in and out to notice how your muscles feel when they’re relaxed.
  • Then go muscle group by muscle group through the body. There are a variety of ways to do this.
  • Some people start with tightening the muscles in their forehand, scrunching their eyebrows up as high as they can, holding for 5-15 seconds, then taking longer to release between 15-30 seconds.
  • Other people like to start seated in a chair. With their right arm at a 90 degree angle, make a tight fist and hold. Focus on what that tension feels like for 10-15 seconds. Exhale and slowly release the tension in your fist for 20-30 seconds to let your arm fully relax.

The key is to take longer to relax your body than the time you spending in a tense position.

Got 30 minutes?

Consider de-cluttering your work space or have a meeting outside of your usual workspace during a 30-minute period. Maybe it’s catching up with a colleague or friend over coffee.

The Harvard Business Review says having a 30-minute meeting makes everyone more attentive and focused which can yield better results thanks to its compressed time frame.

As Peter Bregman writes, people are less likely to skip a 30 minute meeting and having such a short meeting, “Hones the skill of getting to the point quickly, focusing on the most essential elements of a situation, and taking action.”

Bregman says he uses this technique for working out, for meetings or tackling other tasks with an intensity that then lets him stretch out the unstructured time he spends with his family, meals with his friends, for writing and for sleep which makes him more productive both personally and professionally.

Got 60 minutes?

Go to the gym, run an errand, read a book (which can lower your heart rate) or enjoy a long lunch break. Just do something away from the computer screen to clear your mind and bring something to write down ideas.

As productivity coach Deb Lee told Stephanie Vozza of Fast Company, “Use the time to do a ‘brain dump,’ which can help get things off of your mind and on paper where they can be looked at more objectively. If you have a big project coming up, organize your thoughts in writing.”

 

 


It takes money to make money: Low Debt-to-income Ratio and specific loans that can help grow your small business

For small business owners there are many options for using debt to meet your small business’s specific needs.

Small business bank loans totaled nearly $600 billion in 2015, according to data from the U.S. Small Business Administration reported in U.S. News: “At the same time, lending from alternative sources such as finance companies and peer-to-peer, or P2P, marketplace lenders amounted to $593 billion.”

For some small business owners, borrowing money taking on debt can be a nerve-racking exercise. The business owner may have to put personal possessions, such as their homes, their cars, or other assets up as collateral for the loan. But being a smart business owner means that while you may take out loans and acquire debt, it is important to make sure that such loans can be paid back through your business activities.

This is where your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) comes into play. You can calculate DTI by dividing your business’s monthly total recurring debt by your gross monthly income. DTI is typically expressed as a percentage.

For example, if you want to purchase a newer, bigger property for your business, and your business generates some $100,000 per year in profits, it may be reasonable to purchase a property that costs $200,000; however, it might be problematic for you to purchase a property that costs $20,000,000.

Having a low debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is ideal.  A low DTI typically means that your business isn’t highly leveraged. It is also an indicator that your business would be able to survive in the event that your sales slumped. However, if you have a high DTI, you would be very much in trouble in the event of a recession or if your industry or business experiences a sudden major slowdown. A 43% DTI is typically the highest ratio that a person can have if they are applying for a mortgage; anything higher would be too risky for a bank to take on. For small businesses this is a good rule of thumb too.

Solutions for all businesses

There are many types of loans that your small business can take out that will allow you to keep your DTI in check so you don’t go overboard and find yourself swimming in an endless stream of debt. Here are examples of some specific types of loans that might benefit your business, depending on your business’s need:

1. Equipment Loan

If you run a construction business that requires you to purchase a bulldozer, you can likely purchase the product with an equipment loan. Typically you will have to make a 10% to 20% down payment.  And, the equipment itself could very well be your collateral. Your loan could come from a direct lender or from the equipment manufacturer itself.

2. Commercial Mortgage Loan

If you are looking to purchase, develop or even refinance property for your business, such as a warehouse or a storefront, you can take out an SBA loan, similar to a residential mortgage. As U.S. News reports, “Loans that are guaranteed by the Small Business Administration are usually 2 to 2.5 percent higher than the prime residential mortgage rate.”

3. Business Credit Loan

Similar to how credit cards work, you receive a maximum amount of money that you can borrow. A strong selling point for business credit loans is that you can use such credit for any business need. This means you may not feel limited and may be able to sprinkle money across many business verticals from leasing property to purchasing supplies.

4. Invoice Finance Loan

If cash flow is a major problem for your business because you have performed services or sent out goods that haven’t been paid for yet by your customers, you can finance this through companies that will cover your gaps in invoicing for a fee and interest.

Also remember, you can take out loans that have to be paid back in varying increments of time. If you don’t anticipate your business being profitable for a few years, you can take out a medium-to-long-term loan.  Loans with these terms may get you through your initial period of setup.  They can also help you make payments to your staff or cashflow required assets. Typically with longer term loans you repay less money per month because payments are spread over a longer period.  But, you must remember that interest compounds over time. So, in the end you will be paying more money in interest with a longer term loan.

Of course it may be beneficial to shop around to make sure you are getting the best rates. It is also important to note that with a low debt-to-income ratio it will be significantly easier for you to attract loans at interest rates that aren’t exorbitant.


6 online publications that will make you a smarter business owner

We live in an age of information.   And yet – with more and more content out there it has become increasingly difficult for business owners to determine which online publications are worth their time and energy.

While no two businesses are exactly alike, there are some publications that you may be helpful on a regular basis. Here are the top online publications that will make you a smarter small business owner and entrepreneur:

1. Noobpreneur

Author: Ivan Widjaya

This blog is perhaps the ultimate online resource for new small business owners, as it offers simple advice, sourced from numerous locations, and it is all so very practical. For example, if you’re looking to start a fashion company, you can read tips on that industryspecifically, but it you’re looking to make money from investing in real estate, there is also advice to help you with this field. Noobpreneur is as varied as Wikipedia, yet provides so much practical information that can serve you well as you look for new ideas. And if you need advice as generic as productivity tips, this is the place to find them!

2. SmallBizLady

Author: Melinda Emerson

From recommending podcasts, to how to build an ecommerce funnel, Melinda Emerson’s SmallBizLady offers a plethora of useful information for her readers. Written in a matter-of-fact way, Melinda also conducts weekly interviews that make this blog accessible.  It is especially helpful for small business owners who are early in their journeys. For example, she writes about the “5 Ps of Marketing – Product, place, promotion, price, and profit.”

3. Duct Tape Marketing Blog

Author: John Jantsch

The strength of this blog is that it helps you identify specific problems with your business as well as specific solutions. For example, the blog clearly advocates the advantages of putting video in specific sections of your business’s web site, including your Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), personalized team bios, and what your business stands for.

Duct Tape Marketing then does an excellent job of offering solutions that are practical, affordable, and doable, so you can implement these changes quickly.

“There are three basic ways to go about creating video content:

  • On your iPhone.When you use an external microphone and either a simple lighting setup or natural light, you can get great results on your phone’s camera.
  • In a studio.There are lots places that allow you to rent studio space, with access to professional lighting and video equipment, so that you can film all of your video over the course of one day for a low cost.
  • With a videographer. You can hire a videographer to come to your office and do a day of filming with you and your staff.”

4. Evergreen Small Business

Author: Stephen L. Nelson, CPA and Elizabeth C. Nelson, CPA

If you’re planning to open a business or already run one, then you should also be well aware of the numerous complex tax payments the United States requires. Written with business owners in mind, in language palatable for the average person, Evergreen Small Business focuses on ways for you to save money (e.g. tax deductions) while also reminding you what your business’s legal obligations are for paying taxes.

5. The Harvard Business Review (HBR)

Author: Multiple

Founded in 1922, the Harvard Business Review has been around for nearly a century. Yet it remains classic magazine, and now online publication, for researchers to publish their work, oftentimes showing counterintuitive findings to help you manage complex business situations. For example, recent publications include articles as varied as “Research: When People See More Women at the Top, They’re Less Concerned About Gender Inequality Elsewhere” and “The Best Ways to Use Social Media to Expand Your Network.” Though you are limited to three free articles per month on this site, the paid version may be worth your investment.

6. Psychology Today

Author: Multiple

Psychology plays a major role in every purchase decision — or indecision — that takes place. As a business owner or aspiring business owner, you must be well aware of your customers’ psychology. Psychology Today provides easy reads for people who want to improve their lives using ideas that are proven to work. For example, articles like “Silencing Your Inner Critic” may help you make bold decisions required of modern business leaders.

With so much content out there, distilling the good from the bad, the relevant from the irrelevant, has become challenging. Using these publications as a starting point may certainly make your work life easier and your work more productive.


HELP! Should I Pivot My Business?

6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Pivoting Your Business

In business terms, changing the direction of your business is commonly referred to as a pivot. While it is most common to pivot your business in its earlier days, there is no reason why you cannot pivot your business at a later stage to respond to market forces.

If you are a business owner who owns a pizza shop that makes ice cream sandwiches, and you notice your customers spend more money on your ice cream sandwiches than they do on your pizza, you may consider re-inventing yourself as an ice cream sandwich company. But is this smart? Will people buy ice cream sandwiches in the dead of winter? If your product-market fit isn’t measuring up at any stage of your business, young or old, then you might consider pivoting.

How to know if you might need to pivot your business

One way to consider whether or not it is an appropriate time to pivot your business would be by running a SWOT analysis. If this a new term for you, SWOT stands for: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Here are a few key questions you can consider to help you think about your business and if a pivot may be in your future.

Strengths

  • Which factors help you make your sales?
  • What is your company’s unique selling proposition?
  • How is your company better than any other company?

Remember: It is necessary to consider your strengths from your perspective, but also from the perspectives of both your customers and competitors.

Weaknesses

  • What elements of your business need improvement?
  • How do you lose sales?
  • What do your competitors view as your weaknesses?

Again, remember to be realistic and factor in customer metrics you can track.

Opportunities

  • What interesting trends are forming or changing within your industry?
  • How can you implement technology to make your business more efficient?
  • What changes in social patterns may influence your business?

Be prepared to do some heavy research to look under the surface about how you can improve your business.

Threats

  • What are your competitors doing that you are not doing?
  • Are there environmental, economic or industry developments that may hurt your business?
  • What short, medium and long term obstacles to growth do you think you may face?

Again, being truthful about your position relative to others may be to your benefit.

Reasons Businesses Pivot

If you decide your business is at risk from competitors, technology, or changing consumer habits, here are additional questions to help determine whether or not to pivot your business:

1. Where are your sales slumping?

Look at which products or services are selling well and which are failing. Ask yourself why each is or isn’t working, and consider alternatives.

2. Are your competitors gaining ground? 

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but if you were first to market with a product or service, and now you have several imitators, it might be time to figure out how to solidify your position in the market.

3. Is new technology challenging your business?

Technology companies like Uber have been challenging traditional car services and taxis year over year. With most consumers using one or more screens a day, technology has the ability to rapidly change your business.

4. Are there any large trends with the potential to impact your business? 

Changing demographics and birth rates may affect your sales, for example, if you own a business focused on children. Economic forecasts, demographic surveys and industry insights may all provide data to help you plan ahead.

5. Are your costs increasing dramatically, decreasing your profit margins? 

In some cases, there may be little you can do to preserve your current business’s profits unless you find alternative products. For example, if you are an electric battery manufacturer and one of your primary supply ingredients is cobalt, and the cost of cobalt has increased 4X year-over-year, then you may have to increase your pricing dramatically or consider diversifying into other products.

6. Is your product-market fit appropriate? 

For example, if you own a yoga studio but your customers only want to pay $10 per class, even though you require them to pay $20 per class to be profitable, the business may not have an appropriate product-market fit.

Regardless of the reasons behind needing to pivot, you can successfully change up your business model. Just know that changes of this magnitude can’t happen over night. You need to spend time doing your due diligence and you need to be sure you keep an open mind – it can be hard when the business you originally imagined isn’t living up to your expectations. But take heart, because many big brands that you know today had successful pivots. These pivots took place, when the companies were small and or maneuvering through the lean startup world. It’s a pretty impressive roster! Starbucks, Twitter, YouTube, Suzuki, Avon, Wrigley. Check out their stories and get inspired!

 


Top 7 vacation destinations for small business owners to unwind

One of the most difficult aspects of running a business is having the ability to keep your creative juices flowing (didn’t being creative seem so easy when you first set out to start a business?!). Having the ability to think creatively can you help you solve problems and enhance and optimize processes. From coming up with new ways to keep employees and customers happy, to determining areas to save money, to dreaming up new business developments, your business success depends on your ability to continuously come up with innovative and creative ides.

One way to inspire creativity is to immerse yourself in new places. This could be as simple as taking a walk in the woods.  Or, it could mean going on a year-long round-the-world sabbatical.

For most business owners, reality means that a year-long trip is unfeasible. However, a week or two away from work can be a happy medium. Here are some of the top vacation destinations for small business owners to unwind:

San Francisco, California

There’s a reason why so many successful companies are started in and around San Francisco. This is a place with a “Yes” culture. Have an idea? Yes, there are people here who want to help you. A trip to San Francisco can feel like a trip five years ahead in the future; people here are today using the apps and gadgets that people around the world will use in five years time. Thus, it is a market researcher’s paradise. Plus, the beautiful surroundings in every direction mean that no matter if you’re going south to Santa Cruz, east to Lake Tahoe, or north to Muir Woods, you’re bound to get a heavy dose of Mother Nature’s goodness to stoke your mindset.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

In September, 2017 Hurricane Maria decimated the island of Puerto Rico. But since then, Puerto Rico has come back strong. In early 2018, The New York Times reported, “Dozens of entrepreneurs, made newly wealthy by blockchain and cryptocurrencies, are heading en masse to Puerto Rico this winter.”

Beyond the planned-but-not-yet-realized-crypto-utopia, tax incentives also have caused entrepreneurs to flock to this island. Whereas other places have coffee shop cultures as gathering spaces for entrepreneurs, in San Juan the entrepreneurs set up camp in hotels along the beachfront. Two of the most popular hotels for entrepreneurs are the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel and the AC Marriot, both located on the beach in the Condado neighborhood of San Juan. There’s no better place to mix business with pleasure.

New York, New York

If you’re an entrepreneur who has never been to New York, go there now. This is a city that was built for hustlers. People in NYC are always creatively thinking of the best ways to make their fellow citizens part with their dollars. The diversity of people from so many backgrounds gives New York a constant source of fuel on the fire. Each of New York’s five boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, and The Bronx) has its own unique flavors, all driven by entrepreneurs, many of them immigrants or the children of immigrants. There are many popular hangout spots for New York City’s entrepreneurs to unwind at, but among the most popular are Toby’s Estate, a coffeeshop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and the Ace Hotel Lounge, located in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. If you’re looking to escape the city for some solitude, try the nearby Catskill Mountains.

Detroit, Michigan

In 2013, Detroit became the largest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy, which it exited in December 2014. But Detroit is a city that was built on the backs of entrepreneurs, most notably in the auto business. Yet it is the city’s musical underbelly where arguably even more innovation has occurred. From Motown and techno to jazz and punk, not to mention hip-hop, music entrepreneurs have long turned to Detroit for new ideas. With some of the best art museums in the country, from the Detroit Institute of Arts to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit’s institutions were built to inspire you. And when you need a little R&R, visit Detroit’s excellent waterfront restaurant scene.

Cape Town, South Africa

If you’ve got frequent flier miles to spare, consider Cape Town. As the second largest and most Southern city in South Africa, Cape Town is in many ways the hub of where the rest of Africa gets its ideas from. Once you arrive, you’ll be shocked by many things.  First, the gorgeous scenery leave you in awe. Second,  the bargain basement prices on everything is something you’ve rarely encountered in other places. Third, the kindness and generosity of nearly everyone who you will meet along the way will be so refreshing. Africa is a continent that is on the brink of many major positive changes.  It will likely be able to leapfrog other continents, countries, and cities because it lacks existing infrastructure. Cape Town is the hub where much of the planning for a brighter future (literally, with electricity now spreading across the continent) for Africa is now taking shape. With high quality locations to lounge just about everywhere, try Clarke’s or the Loading Bay for both food and coffee that will inspire.

San Diego, California

You can get access to everything you need to make relaxation a priority, while still being inspired in San Diego.  San Diego is a small city with universal appeal.  San Diego boasts a comfortable climate (70 degrees all year long, so you can visit during any season!) and an abundance of nature.  No matter where you go in the city, you’ll find small business creating the backbone of the neighborhood, keeping each area unique…and full of inspiration.  From Old Town, which serves up great Mexican food along side a helping of California history to North Park’s ethnically diverse neighborhood full of indie coffee shops and art galleries. San Diego is also just a stone’s throw from Mexico, so shuttling across the border for the day is super-easy.  The local residents are laid-back, casual and extremely friendly.  All of this combined, makes it a lot easier to allow yourself to unwind – it’s simply the culture here!

Montreal, Canada

With a population of just over 4 million residents, Montreal is Canada’s second biggest city (second to Toronto). And, it is a hub for business, art, and culture.  It is the business center of Quebec and was named by Lonely Planet Travel guide as one of the “10 happiest places in the World”. As a metropolitan area, Montreal is refreshingly multicultural and its diverse mix of ethnicities are reflected through the city’s neighborhoods, each having it’s own flavor and unique aspects that can get those creative juices flowing.  A highlight of Montreal is its arts and culture scene.  Throughout the year, Montreal hosts the world’s largest comedy festival, film festivals, jazz festivals, firework festivals and more.  You can also find, throughout both downtown and in residential areas, art installations which pop up regularly.  Unique in Canada in that it is the only French metropolitan city, it will give you the opportunity to practice speaking a new language.  It also allows you to meet individuals from all around the world. It has even been described as being half Paris, half Brooklyn – making it (for some) the perfect city.

Remember, there are so many inspiring places on this earth, and these are just a handful. Wherever you decide to travel, make sure you don’t turn your vacation into a business trip! Put your phone down!  Make sure that you’re living in the present.  Absorb new cultures, ideas, and innovations to get yourself on the right track when you return from your journey.


9 Tips to Create a Great Podcast For Your Small Business

Over the past four years, the number of Americans who listen to podcasts has nearly doubled according to Edison Research and Triton Digital. The largest demographic of listeners are millennials who hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees.

Many business owners are joining the ranks of other successful podcasters because the return on investment is great when it comes to retaining listeners. According to Podcast Insights, 80 percent of all podcast listeners keep listening to all episodes they begin every week. Making podcasting a great alternative or supplement to blog posts.

There are many ways small businesses are getting involved. And the good news is that creating a podcast for your small business is relatively simple and – even better – relatively inexpensive.

For example, Rebecca L. Weber hosts a podcast called The Writing Coach Podcast, for freelance writers who are in business for themselves. She offers strategies on how to overcome hurdles like setting company policies, boosting your bottom line and getting clients to pay on time.

Chicago-based Basecamp, a small business that helps other companies to perform digital collaboration, hosts Rework, a podcast that offers tips on more efficient and effective ways to work and run a business.

No matter what type of podcast you hope to create for your small business, before you launch your first episode, here are some tips and tools to consider when starting a podcast.

1. Find a topic that will resonate with listeners.

Think about a topic you can commit to that will resonate with you, your customers and potential clients.

Then ask yourself:

  • Why am I doing this podcast?
  • What does success look like?
  • What type of thought leadership do you want to be known for?
  • Is this sustainable for a long period of time?

2. Use a catchy name.

The right name can make a difference. Like a TEDx stretched out over multiple weeks, a podcast is a branding tool that will help you become known for whatever topic you’re speaking about.

ThePodcastHost.com’s Matthew McLean suggests using one of three formats:

1.     Consider a creative name that is abstract but memorable. Think 99% Invisible or The Moth.

2.    Use a descriptive name such as Marketing Over Coffee, Startups for the Rest of Us and The Science of Social Media.

3.    Or use your name such as Noah Kagan Presents, or Chris Ducker Podcast.

3. Get well-designed cover art.

A picture is worth a 1,000 words and having good cover art can make a difference. You can hire a graphic designer, or if you’re savvy enough, do it yourself.

If you’re going the latter route, think about your color schemes and stick to three or four colors. Keep the text simple and easy to read with a design that illustrates the essence of your podcast in an eye-catching simplified manner. Need ideas? Checkout the simplistic design used for the StartUp podcast.

4. Create an intro with music and verbiage.

While having great music isn’t a requirement, it certainly helps. Marmoset curates emerging artists and you can purchase their music via podcast licenses that range from single episode to series use. Other options to purchase podcast music include Jamendo, 909 Music and Envato’s AudioJungle.

Besides having music, structure your podcast intro and outro with a tagline. Your introduction should include the name of your podcast, the episode number, title, identify the name of the host and who you are, information about what the show is going to be about. And make sure your intro sets the tone for your podcast. For example, for a more conversational format, say “I am (insert name)” instead of “My name is (insert name).”

5. Decide on your format.

Being consistent is important. Your audience will come to love and expect a certain format. Decide how you’ll set up your podcast and stick with a format.

Ask yourself, “Do I want to….”

  • Do solo commentary?
  • Conduct one-on-one interviews?
  • Have a panel of guests for an interview or discussion-style show?
  • Do you want it to be conversational and potentially co-hosted?
  • Or more educational with non-fiction storytelling?

As a small business, you’ll want to make sure your voice and tone resonates with your ideal customer and target market.

6. Set up your recording studio.

There’s plenty of equipment you can buy, but start with the basics.

Besides having a good computer, you’ll want a good microphone — not the one that is built into your computer, a usb microphone is best. Consider using Blue Yeti or Audio Technica ATR2100 USB Cardioid Dynamic USB/XLR Microphone.

You’ll also likely want a microphone stand or boom arm to hold your microphone like the Heil Sound PL-2T Overhead Broadcast Boom and a pop filter, a circular piece of mesh that goes between you and the microphone to filter out plosives — sounds that can come out with hard consonants like the letters “p” and b.”

If you are conducting interviews, a good recorder such as the Zoom H6, Zoom H4n Pro can help you record in stereo, multi-track or the 4cH mode which are good for getting live room sound via its built in microphones and two external inputs.

7. Investigate editing tools.

There’s free audio editing software like Audacity and Garage Band. For a more robust program, you can pay a subscription service such as Adobe Audition or a flat fee to Logic Pro. Another option some entrepreneurs are using is Alitu which offers a 7-day trial and can help produce your podcast by cleaning up your audio, trim your recordings, create theme music, add ID3 tags for meta data and publish to your hot for $28 a month.

8. Find a place to host your podcast.

Even if you already have a website and web host, you’ll need someone separate to host your audio files. Libsyn, is one of the most well-known, but there are plenty of others. Each have different algorithms for how they track downloads. We Edit Podcasts offers an extensive list and breakdown on two options.

9. Promote your launch.

Ever since the hit podcast Serial gripped the nation in 2014 with its whodunit investigative reporting about a murder, listening to a podcast has become more mainstream. But how often a podcast is downloaded can vary from a couple hundred to hundreds of thousands per episode.

Encourage listeners to leave reviews. Some podcasts will offer a free Kindle book or read the person’s review on their next episode. Regardless of what your podcast is about, it will take a while to become more comfortable in front of the microphone.

Hosting a podcast is about sharing interesting experiences and giving unique insights into your business or mindset, something only you can provide. By building your brand this way as a small business entrepreneur, you can potentially bring in new customers, create engagement and positive interaction within your community.


How to Simplify Your Digital Life as a Small Business Owner

Business owners know how often work-life balance can feel completely unbalanced. The lines between what is work and what is “down-time” often get blurred.  This is especially the case when there are deadlines to meet, after-hours problems to solve, or when you’re the only one who can address an issue. That’s why simplifying your digital life — de-cluttering and streamlining your online usage — can be important for small business owners.

Cal Newport, author of “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World,” recommends cleaning your digital house to get less distracted. His philosophy is simple: Be more intentional about the technology in your life. If you can focus more intensely on fewer things, then you may find more success with fewer distractions.

“Intentionally and aggressively clearing away low-value digital noise, and optimizing your use of the tools that really matter, can significantly improve your life,” says Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University.

Even if you can’t completely unplug — which most small business owners find impossible — consider streamlining your digital life.

Here’s how:

1. Get a Back-Up

Before you start cleaning house, start by backing up everything. If you’re a digital hoarder, that can be a lot. This is a good policy regardless of how much purging you plan on doing since your hard drive could fail or ransomware could hold it hostage. This can be done using an external hard drive or a Cloud service.

Keep in mind, cloud storage is different than doing an actual cloud backup where a software-based solution will automatically back everything up for you by being housed in the background of your computer.

For external hard drives, a solid state drive is considered more reliable and typically has larger storage capacity. Regardless of what you use for a back-up, make sure you make multiple back-ups because files can be written over and drives may fail. Have a back-up to your back-up.

2. Uninstall every app on your phone

Like tidying up expert Marie Kondo’s recommendation of throwing your entire closet of clothes on your bed to see how many you have, Newport recommends deleting every app on your phone and then reinstalling the ones that make sense.

“Wipe the slate clean,” Newport says, “so that you can get rid of those that were haphazardly downloaded and then rebuild it from scratch intentionally.” Then re-add the tools you use in your digital life that directly serve the things you care about.

3. Clean out your email inbox

Like most small business owners, you may have thousands of unread emails. Although it’s great to aim for “net zero” where there aren’t any unread emails, for most owners that’s nearly impossible.

Start by seeing what unnecessary emails are tied to subscriptions and unsubscribe from as many as you can.

If you’re using Gmail, consider moving from their Inbox to Gmail platform. The bundles feature lets you customize your inbox tabs in Gmail. That can help. Then organize your emails into tabs and folders that make sense.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, snooze emails until later or set follow-up nudges, a tool that can be found under the settings button, where Gmail will move old emails to the top of your inbox with a prompt to reply.

Another option is to take the “inbox zero” approach created by productivity expert Merlin Mann. His suggestion is to reduce your time spent on email, by checking it only at certain times of the day or maybe every two hours. Then with a set aside block of time, review your emails, by doing one of the following five actions:

  • Delete
  • Delegate
  • Respond
  • Defer
  • Do

Once you are done with this, you close your email and do other work you need to accomplish.

4. Review social media accounts

Review what social media platforms are working for your business and what isn’t. If you’re an image-centric business do you really need to be on Twitter if you’re on Instagram and Pinterest? Maybe. Or maybe not. Carefully curate useful tools and then set time limits.

If you are managing your accounts manually, consider scheduling tools like Hootsuite and Sprout Social to help you manage all your social media accounts on one platform.

If you use social media for industry information or news, consider creating a free and simple Google Alert.  With google alerts you can track key terms including your name, your company’s name or industry buzzwords.

5. Clean up your internet browsing

Many business owners constantly search and research online until their browser crashes with too many tabs open in their internet browser.

Most browsers have bookmarking options which you can sync across devices so you can call them up later without keeping additional windows or tabs open.

If you haven’t already, create folders within your browser to organize your links.  Consider alphabetizing primary folders with subfolders, or classifying primary folders by themed topics such as work, tech, read later, favorites, etc.

Regardless of how you choose to simply your digital life, a philosophy of ‘less is more’ may help you spend more time focusing on work and less time wading through a digital mess.

 

 


Making Her Mark – Influential Women Business Owners: Mei Wang


Switching Gears and Saving Lives: How Instapath Pivoted and Built a Business

“We need to do a biopsy” – Words that can cause a patient’s hear to skip a beat.  A biopsy removes cells or tissue from a suspicious area of the body.  Doctor’s then study these cells to see if a

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Credit: Instapath

disease – such as cancer – is present. Patients wait with hope and trepidation for their biopsies to return either “positive” or “negative.”

However, few people realize the first biopsy may not provide doctors with the desired information. Of the 5 million biopsies performed in the United States to diagnose cancer, 1 million must be re-done. This can cause more stress, and potentially delay a patient’s treatment by months.

When Mei Wang was a Ph.D. student in biomedical/medical engineering at Tulane University, she was astounded to learn that biopsies are unsuccessful so often. She and a group of fellow Ph.D. students looked into the problem.

The reason, she concluded, was the way in which these tests are done. Most biopsies use an imaging technique known as a rapid on-site evaluation (ROSE). The problem with this technique is that it captures only 1 percent of a total biopsy.  This small percentage is what typically leads to the inaccuracy.  An inaccuracy that can necessitate the uncomfortable and costly procedure being repeated.

A Microscopic View

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Credit: Instapath

Wang and her colleagues came up with a new approach. They use a digital microscope that takes a picture of the whole biopsy at subcellular resolution within seconds of removal, improving the speed and accuracy of the diagnosis. Wang believed it could also increase the likelihood the patient would return for treatment. When they presented their data at different medical conferences around the world, physicians and the medical community took immediate interest.

“Everyone said we should push forward because this was a significant clinical issue,” Wang says. “A few people from the industry approach us during the conference and said they were interested in what we were doing.”

With that motivation, Wang and her colleagues founded a company call Instapath, which is now based in Austin, Texas, to turn their idea into a product. Quickly, Instapath won several pitch contests for their concept, including an international pitch competition, receiving $30,000. The company also received a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant for $225,000 to perform their R&D.

Overcoming Negative Feedback

All this would make Instapath seem like a slam-dunk.  After all, they had come up with a solution to an urgent medical issue. However, Wang found a great idea does not necessarily make for a great business. This is especially true in an industry as complex as healthcare. While the need and the solution were apparent to her, the business did not come into focus.  So she set about interviewing more than 200 physicians and health industry participants.

Surprisingly, many of the first doctors she approached were downbeat about the idea. Many different kinds of doctors are involved in treating cancer.  As a result, the need for better and faster biopsies was not of equal importance to all of them.

Trudging forward after a string of negative feedback, finally, she found the medical personnel most interested in her technology: interventional radiologists. These are sub-specialists of radiology who use minimally invasive image-guided procedures to diagnose and treat diseases.

“When we started, they were pretty low on our list,” she says. “We started targeting neurologists and breast cancer surgeons.”

While the latter thought her technology was a “nice to have,” it was the interventional radiologists who felt their work was most impacted by frustrating delays in biopsy quality.

New Business Model

There was another surprise, though. While healthcare providers were interested in improving the diagnosis, the institutions that would pay for the technology – insurance companies and

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Source: Instapath

hospitals – had other concerns. They wanted a procedure that was more efficient and could be performed with fewer personnel. Wang, like many entrepreneurs, had to appease different constituents: the medical personnel who would influence the purchase decision, and the hospital administrators who would have to sign off on the sale.

“Without those interviews, we wouldn’t have a product that would sell and we wouldn’t have known who we were selling to,” she says.

Once the issues and concerns came into sharp focus, she changed her pricing plan and business model. Now, when pitching Instapath, Weng focuses on the fact that the technology “increases the throughput of biopsy procedures and allows more patients to be treated per biopsy suite per day.”

It is a subtle, but critical difference.  A difference that made the difference between having a great idea and having a great business.

“When you start a business, you often find yourself in the valley of despair,” she says. “But you quickly learn how to pivot, because you need to understand what your customer cares about and appeal to them.”


Editor’s Note: Lauren’s story is one of an ongoing series celebrating women business owners.  Take a look at some of the other inspiring stories in this series: How I Built My Own Business After Cancer and Launching Your Own Business as a Working Mom


Why Are All of My Employees Leaving?

Do you know what work your employees really enjoy doing? Most business owners and managers have no idea, according to a recent Harvard Business Review article authored by three Facebook executives and a university professor. “It spills out in exit interviews — a standard practice in every HR department to find out why talented people are leaving and what would have convinced them to stick around,” the article says.

A smarter approach is to figure out why people leave before they actually do. A recent study from the ADP Research Institute found that 5% of all workers leave their job every month, and most employee turnover is voluntary.

“Unemployment is at a 17-year low, and job switching is at a record high,” says co-head of the ADP Research Institute Ahu Yildirmaz. “It has always been important for employers to minimize turnover, but it is more critical now than ever before given the current state of labor market.”

40 Reasons for Leaving

The ADP study determined 40 factors that contribute to voluntary turnover. Those factors can be categorized as: “Pay, promotion, overtime/premium time, commute, experience-and-tenure, and other job characteristics.”

The specific influence each of these categories has on causing employees to leave varies by industry. Pay and promotion are the main drivers of voluntary turnover. Commute time, the study found, is a more important factor than experience and tenure.

Understanding why employees leave can help a company in a couple of ways. First, this can guide you in hiring. If you know that a long commute is a significant factor in why a certain class of employees tends to quit, you might re-consider whether to hire someone who will spend an hour on the freeway each day getting to work.

These insights can also help you determine which of your workers are likely to leave.  They can also help to uncover workplace issues you need to address. Perhaps you can offer remote work or a flexible schedule to that worker with the long commute. If good workers are going elsewhere because of benefits, you may need to reconsider your benefits package.

Conduct Stay Interviews

What’s the best way for a company to figure out what is causing its turnover issues? You no doubt have done interviews when you were deciding to hire someone.  And, many of you might have conducted “exit interviews” after someone leaves.

Susan Heathfield, a people management expert for TheBalance, suggests you also conduct “stay interviews” to determine the reasons that employees remain at your company. “Then, pay attention to and enhance the factors they identify that keep them coming back every day,” she suggests.

If you pay close attention to the reason employees leave, there’s a good chance your turnover will decline. And the workers who stick around will be more productive.


Top 5 Customer Service Books for Business Owners

In running a business, it can be important to think like your customers think; if you don’t, you may quickly fall out of favor with them as they move to competitors who understand their needs better. Yet projects such as creating a stellar customer experience, doing the appropriate research to understand customer needs and enhancing customer support and service interactions frequently take a backseat to more immediate issues.

Even if you can’t begin the aforementioned projects just yet, it doesn’t mean you can’t make some steps to getting to know your customer better and and make some day to day improvements in your interactions with them. The following five business books will help you get started. If you’re a business owner who wants to make sure they are in tune with their customers’ evolving needs, you need to read these books!

1. “The Service Culture Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Your Employees Obsessed with Customer Service” by Jeff Toister

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Purchase here.

Using a step-by-step workflow, Toister’s sage advice will help you build your customer-centric business efficiently and pragmatically.

Written in a conversational tone that is free of jargon, Toister is known throughout the internet (from his training videos on LinkedIn Learning) for his straight-forward attitude toward customer service principles. In this work, he uses real world examples of both excellent customer service and not-so-stellar customer service experiences. He then explains how each experience will impact an organization’s reputation.

2. “The Million Dollar Greeting” by Dan Sachs and Janet Scott

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Purchase here.

While The Million Dollar Greeting focuses on the hospitality industry, it offers many secrets to creating and developing a workforce who are both inspired and committed to your business — a secret recipe for success within the hospitality industry.

Sachs, a Harvard graduate, serves as president of Meerkat Restaurant Advisory, a restaurant advisory group. He is also a professor of business and entrepreneurship at DePaul University. For 16 years, he owned Bin36 restaurant group, which developed and operated multiple wine-focused restaurants. What makes this book unique is that the authors have intentionally spoken to people who work in both large and small companies across a wide range of businesses. This has allowed them to focus on something rare within the hospitality industry: the businesses that grow for decades, rather than the businesses that are hot for a couple of years and then quickly fall out of vogue.

3. “Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business” by Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine

Outside In, designed for customer service enthusiasts, focuses on how your business can achieve long-term, sustainable success.

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Purchase here.

Manning and Bodine have fourteen years of research behind them as the customer experience leaders at Forrester Research. This book offers a comprehensive roadmap that explains how businesses can achieve advantages with their customers. The book starts off by explaining the concept of the “Customer Experience Ecosystem proof”. The concept explains how “the roots of customer experience problems lie not just with customer-facing employees like your sales staff, but with behind-the-scenes employees like accountants, lawyers, and programmers, as well as the policies, processes, and technologies that all your employees use every day.”

The book then goes on to explain how first identifying and then solving these problems can and will dramatically increase your firm’s sales. At the same time you will also be decreasing your costs.

4. “The Customer Manifesto” by Pamela Hermann

top-5-customer-service-books-for-business-owners-the-customer-manifesto
Purchase here.

The Customer Manifesto is an excellent reminder that despite all of the technology developed, businesses must continue to be “people first” to achieve success.

Practically, this book explains how to get your customers to go from one-time customers to repeat customers. When you achieve customer loyalty, you will watch as your business grows and thrives, because your existing customers will bring new customers to you. This book provides many solid recipes for success that can easily be followed by business owners and operators. It also shows that by focusing on customer success for your clients, you bring success to your business.

5. “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth

While this isn’t a customer service-specific book like the others, Grit is a fabulous explainer to help you achieve your business goals.

top-5-customer-service-books-for-business-owners-grit-the-power-of-passion-and-perserverance
Purchase here.

A 2013 MacArthur Fellow and professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania Angela Duckworth is the Founder and CEO of Character Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance the science and practice of character development in children. But beyond your childhood years, Duckworth proves scientifically of how perseverance in both the workplace and in life will get you farther than you could have ever dreamed. Some practical advice from this book:

1.     Define what success looks like. (e.g. Running a successful pizza restaurant chain.)

2.    Clearly state your short, medium and long term goals, while also giving yourself stretch goals. (e.g. Sell 5,000 pizzas in the first quarter and 25,000 by the end of next year.)

3.    Put your goals into practice by stepping outside your comfort zone and testing your innovations or products through deliberate practice.

4.    Reflect and learn from the obstacles, challenges, failures you face.

5.    Never become complacent or satisfied — as there is always room for improvement. This requires you to become almost obsessed with your task at hand.

Want more to read?

Of course, there are tons of additional great books on customer service (and running a successful company) to consider including:

It’s important to remember that while books are a great place to learn new strategies and ideas, it is also important to put these strategies and ideas into practice.  So start testing and iterating to determine which strategies works best for your business.


Making Her Mark – Influential Women Business Owners: Lauren Leblanc-Haydel

Winning the Great T-Shirt Battle of 2010

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Source: bizneworleans.com

Lauren Leblanc-Haydel had something most single mothers with three young kids would love: job security. After six years as an on-air personality at a New Orleans radio station, she landed a position as the creative director of the Louisiana Farm Bureau, a solid job that provided her with benefits, a phone and even a company car.

But Haydel wanted more. “I had a belief that I could create a better life for my children,” she says. So when her 2009 tax refund arrived, she knew she wanted to start a business with the $2,000. Still, she was a little hazy on what the business would be. At first, she thought about selling makeup. Finally, she settled on making T-shirts, an idea her boss at the Farm Bureau thought was ridiculous, considering that there was a huge number of vendors selling T-shirts to tourists who flocked to the Big Easy. “Everyone thought I was crazy,” she says.

Getting ‘Fleurty’

Haydel, however, had a steadfast belief that she could stand out with V-neck shirts and other female-friendly cuts reflecting, as she puts it, “the culture of New Orleans.” It all came together when she was sitting on her porch and a name for her company came to her that embodied the spirit and zest she hoped to capture: Fleurty Girl.

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Source: ClearWare

She rushed to her computer and registered the domain name. While the company didn’t have a business plan yet, it got off to a good start: After launching the company’s site, she sold out of her T-shirts within 30 days.

It wasn’t a quick rags-to-riches story, though. Haydel had to make plenty of compromises to pursue her dream, such as moving to a smaller house and having her children give up their individual bedrooms. She was working 14- to 18-hour days. But the biggest challenge came soon after she opened her first storefront six months later. Almost immediately, she found himself being sued by the National Football League. The New Orleans Saints were set to appear in the Superbowl. Haydel was one of a number of entrepreneurs who sold T-shirts emblazoned with the team’s slogan, “Who Dat?” The NFL rained cease-and-desist orders down on her.

“A woman who took a chance to make a better life for her and her kids by celebrating the city where she grew up” – Haydel has a chat with Harry Connick Jr.

Standing Her Ground

Haydel had no trouble with the idea of sending the NFL a royalty payment, but she was caught in a tug-of-war with another company which also claimed to own the phrase “Who Dat?” The origins of the phrase is debated in and around New Orleans, but it had been around for decades. For local football fans, it became a popular abbreviation of, “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints” when fans chanted for their team in the Superdome.

Haydel, who originally sold T-shirts from a building she rehabilitated after Hurricane Katrina, was something of a tornado herself. With her astute understanding of media, she managed to get an avalanche of publicity when the NFL came after her.

Stories appeared on the front page of the local newspaper, the Times Picayune. She appeared on national TV shows, which loved the David-and-Goliath story of the 4-foot-11 single mother standing up to one of the biggest sports league in the world.

Attorneys offered to represent her for free. Louisiana Senator David Vitter sent the NFL a letter telling them to back off. The NFL finally did, issuing Haydel an apology in the bargain.

Haydel says that people, especially independent-minded New Orleanians, admired the local who stood her ground. However, she bristled against the common belief that the controversy and publicity from the NFL lawsuit made her business. She says the suit hit her at a time when she had no money, and almost sunk her.

Onwards & Upwards

With steadfast determination, her business kept going — and growing. Today, the multi-million Fleurty Girl sells not only shirts, but also dresses, jewelry, books, wedding gifts, art and items for the home. Many have a unique, local flair, such as the “Mardi Gras Fan Tassel Earrings.”

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Source: fleurtygirl.net

Last year, Haydel opened her seventh location at the Louis Armstrong International Airport. At the same time, she bought fellow New Orleans T-shirt retailer Storyville. Storyville also got a cease-and-desist order from the NFL in the great T-shirt battle of 2010. In addition to purchasing the company’s line of T-shirt designs inspired by New Orleans, she hired her competitor’s three employees.

To top it off, the same year, Haydel married Ryan Haydel of Haydel’s Bakery.  Haydel’s Bakery is a three-generation Big Easy institution.  This union made them something of a power couple in the city. Haydel says her idea of being a power couple is both of them working 10-hour days — Ryan comes home smelling like king cake, and her arms are tired from folding T-shirts.


Editor’s Note: Megy’s story is one of a four-part series celebrating women business owners throughout the month of March.  Take a look at the other inspiring stories in the series: How I Built My Own Business After Cancer and Launching Your Own Business as a Working Mom


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