With Clarity creative marketing – rethinking a tried and true industry

It can be hard to get attention as a small business. It’s especially difficult when you’re competing against larger, established firms with much deeper advertising budgets. But, these established companies are set in their ways. They don’t have the same flexibility that you do. This is one way for your business to stand out. With Clarity, an online retailer of engagement rings, is shaking up the traditional jewelry industry. Their business uses 3D printing to create samples of engagement rings. This way, people shopping online can try them on at home before buying.

We spoke with Slisha Kankariya, co-founder and CMO, to see how they were able to rethink such a tried and true industry.

Spotting an Opportunity

Kankariya launched With Clarity with her husband Anubh. “His family had worked in the diamond and jewelry industry for three generations, so we decided to delve back into that space. However, we didn’t want to go the traditional route and run With Clarity just like every other jewelry store in the country.”

They noticed that while people shop online for many other products, it’s still quite rare for high-end jewelry. “90 percent of people look for engagement rings online, but only 10 percent of sales actually happen online. This is a missed opportunity for customers because there is more variety on the internet plus prices are typically 30 to 40 percent lower.”

Before opening, they spent time speaking with their customer base to find out why they were reluctant to shop online. “We realized that people have this fear of commitment for such a major purchase. They aren’t confident buying something they haven’t touched, haven’t seen sparkle.” They realized then that 3D printing could be the answer.

Benefiting from a Unique Business Model

Through 3D printing, With Clarity offers a home preview option for their online shoppers. People can pick out their two favorite options from the website and With Clarity will create sample rings for both, using simulated diamonds and a metal alloy that looks just like gold/silver. “The timing was perfect to launch this new model as 3D printing has gotten more affordable and effective.”

Kankariya noted that there are many benefits to her customers as well. “It gives them more options, especially people living in an area without many stores nearby. Plus, they don’t have to meet face-to-face with a pushy salesperson.”

With Clarity’s unique approach has gotten them plenty of attention as well. They were able to land investors and mentors through a New York technology accelerator plus their business has been featured in media outlets like Inc., Entrepreneur and Fox Business. If they had gone the traditional route, it would have been more difficult to get this kind of press, especially while competing in a saturated market.

Rethinking Your Own Industry

We asked Kankariya how other business owners could shake up their own industries. She believes it starts with a customer-based focus. “Try to look at the World through the lens of your customer, not your perspective as a business owner. Ideally, you should find a unique way to solve one of their problems.”

Whether it’s better pricing, more variety, supply chain transparency or a more convenient sales system, you need only one element that’s truly different from your established competitors. When you find it, make it the focal point of your business.

Kankariya pointed out that it’s ok to be niche as well. “Since we launched, the market share of people buying rings online has grown from 10% to 14%.” Despite the sizable jump, the majority still shop in-person. However, those that use With Clarity are pleased with their experience. With Clarity is building a loyal and growing customer base. A successful small business doesn’t need to capture the entire market so long as they do well in their niche market.

Rethinking a tried and true industry isn’t easy, but With Clarity shows it definitely helps you stand out. By adjusting your business model, you could receive plenty of marketing attention even without paying for advertising. This is just one more way you can do more with less.

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Businesses Celebrating Kwanzaa: A unique way one builder celebrates

Akumba Bynum-Roberson “was brought up on the seven principles of Kwanzaa. [His] parents taught all of them to [him] early and it’s been a part of [his] life,” Akumba shares. Because he integrated these principles into his life, of course his firm, AK Builders Group, LLC, is one of the businesses celebrating Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is a week-long tribute to the African cultural heritage of African Americans that has a strong focus on community.

AK Builders Group began in 2015 and is a full service construction firm with a custom carpentry specialty, which Akumba co-owns with his wife. Akumba has been in the construction industry for 20 years, however. He previously owned a construction and landscaping services firm. When he left, he transferred his landscaping customers to a fellow Morehouse alumnus who operated a landscaping firm. Akumba says he developed a partnership with the alumnus and subsequently made the transfer “in the spirit of cooperative economics (Ujamaa)”, which encourages building and supporting businesses together.

Kujichagulia – Self-Determination

Bynum-Roberson’s parents stressed the importance of kujichagulia, a Kwanzaa principle. Specifically, they emphasized the need to “define ourselves, name ourselves and speak for ourselves instead of being defined, named and spoken for by others,” he recalls. This focus on determinism and empowerment almost certainly contributed to him becoming a small business owner.

Umoja – Unity: Kwanzaa Kick-off

To celebrate Kwanzaa with the community, last year Bynum-Roberson and his business partner held their inaugural Kwanzaa Kick-Off event on the first day of Kwanzaa, umoja. The event not only captured the umoja spirit, it also focused on health and wellness, something near and dear to Bynum-Roberson. As a vegetarian his entire life, he truly embraces the health benefits of a plant-based diet. It appears to be working. He’s married with two small children, a thriving construction company and a burgeoning event business. And still, he radiates energy.

Last year’s event was in a yoga studio in Atlanta’s historic district, West End. He says, “It was beautiful to be able to have it in that space” in such a meaningful area. What also made it memorable was that, as children, he, the studio’s manager and his business partner were all in the first children’s African drum and dance ensemble in Atlanta. The event included food, giveaways, vendors, a raffle and live music. It was a reunion of sorts that brought back wonderful memories.

2nd Annual Event

In addition to overall event success and product sales, Bynum-Roberson generated a number of construction service leads that later converted to revenue. This year’s event will build on that success. Since they turned people away last year, this year they will host the event at a larger venue. However, Bynum-Roberson is keeping it close. The event will be held on umoja–December 26. It will be at his business partner’s new restaurant, Life Bistro, in southwest Atlanta. It will feature the same festivities and healthy fare, but with more room.

Kuumba – Creativity

Bynum-Roberson constantly uses another Kwanzaa principle, kuumba (creativity). At the event, he sells his handcrafted birch, butcher block cutting boards and handcrafted step pyramid candle holder sets. He channels his creativity at his firm by crafting customized barn doors and butcher block countertops. Furthermore, he says he uses his creative “skills and abilities to… bring a better outcome.”

Event Expansion

Bynum-Roberson says that he and his event business partner started small with a Spelman-Morehouse homecoming event. It generated profits. From that, they worked out the kinks to create “a formula to put together an event, to bring the community together, and encourage local entrepreneurs.” They used that formula to create the Kwanzaa kick-off event. With that second success, they opted to expand. They now also host a summer event–a plant-based cookout–over the July 4th weekend.

Akumba Bynum-Roberson's firm, AK Builders Group

For Bynum-Roberson, it feels good to do good in the community and make money at the same time. As a small business owner, he supports and strengthens his community. One of Bynum-Roberson’s biggest inspirations is Marcus Garvey. Garvey was “a business owner, an organizer and a nation builder”, he says. With sincerity he states: “[I]f we can build ourselves in a fortified way, we can have strong families. If we can have strong families, we can have strong communities. If we can have strong communities, we can have a strong nation.”

Of the people and businesses celebrating Kwanzaa, Bynum-Roberson is one of the most passionate. For him, the principles of Kwanzaa have and will continue to serve him well.

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Overcoming Claim Rejections and Insurance Denials

Are your staff’s efforts overcoming claim rejections costing your practice money?

According to a recent study by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), reworking a rejection or denial claim averages a cost of $25. When you multiply that $25 by multiple claims every year and figure in another startling fact—that 50 to 65 percent of rejected claims are never reworked—there’s a significant possibility that your billing practices are leaving money on the table.

The good news is: strategies for overcoming claim rejections and insurance denials are readily available. With the help of two experts in the medical billing and practice revenue fields, you’ll learn why insurance company deny or reject claims. You’ll also learn about steps you can take to help increase your clean claims ratio.

You’ll be on your way to an improved revenue stream and more efficient billing practices in no time.

Common reasons for claim rejection and denial

Needing to overcome claim rejections and insurance denials often begins at a practice’s administrative level. Errors in submission, coding, and verification lead to many avoidable claim challenges.

To get to the root of why insurance companies typically reject and deny claims, our two experts weigh in below. Madeline Silva, CEO of Freedom Switch, a firm specializing in strategies that help physicians improve their collection rates; and Nancy Rowe, CEO of Practice Provider, a revenue cycle management, consulting and software development company for the medical industry both share their perspectives from over 20 years in their fields.

Top reasons for claim rejections:

1. Submission errors

“One-third of all claims are not received by the insurance companies,” says Silva. Even if a practice has an electronic record for a claim submission, the carrier’s system loses many claims. “If you’re not consistently following-up on claims, you’ll never get paid on these claims.”

2. Invalid Medicare numbers

“Medicare recently moved away from using patient social security numbers and instead chose to use 11 randomly chosen alphanumeric characters which are often entered incorrectly,” says Rowe.

3. Coding errors

If your practice performs procedures that aren’t approved for a specific diagnosis, Silva says your practice could have the claim rejected. As well, many claim rejections come down to a missing modifier on a procedure code—an easily avoidable mistake.

4. Termination of coverage

“This most often occurs at the beginning of the year when patients opt-out of their current plan and enroll in another,” says Rowe.

5. Smart edits

“The carrier will automatically reject claims that contain certain procedures (CPT codes) combinations or procedure/diagnosis (ICD 10 code) combinations,” Rowe says.

Top reasons for insurance denials:

1. Inexperienced billers

Being a certified coder or biller is a start, but Silva says that training still leaves room for errors. “The real experience comes from doing the work day-out-and-day-in,” she says.

2. Authorization

“The most common denial I see in practices is for failing to obtain authorization [for a procedure] from an insurance carrier,” says Rowe. Staff members handling claims submissions are often not adequately trained and up-to-date on carrier requirements.

3. Lack of follow-up

“Follow-up on past due claims is essential for getting paid on those claims and learning what you need to do to reduce denials,” says Silva.

4. Medical necessity

Rowe often sees practices with denied claims for in-office procedures such as echocardiograms, ultrasounds, and minor surgical procedures. As each insurance carrier has written guidelines for which procedures are allowed for a specific diagnosis, practices that don’t follow those guidelines can find themselves stuck for payment.

5. Lack of in-practice checks and balances

Silva says that many practices lack a system of internal accountability which ensures that in-house and outsourced teams are proactively approaching billing challenges.

And, If your practice is in a cash crunch because you’re waiting for payment on claims, you could be putting the longevity of your practice at risk.

“Smaller independent practices have a higher percentage of overhead as compared to revenue,” says Rowe. “This makes it difficult to sustain themselves if faced with having to wait several additional weeks to be paid while claims are resubmitted and appealed.”

According to Silva, $120 billion in insurance claims goes uncollected every year. Odds are, your practice has a rightful claim to many of those dollars.

Now that you know the most common reasons for claim rejections and denials, you need to be proactive in the steps you take to help overcome claim rejections. It’s high time you enjoyed a practice with a higher clean claim ratio.

Actionable strategies for overcoming claim rejections

The bottom line is: doctors don’t want to handle billing for their practice themselves. However, that doesn’t mean that a practice should silo billing without physician involvement.

The most beneficial steps that a practice can take toward overcoming claim rejections and increasing its clean claims rate are those that integrate multiple areas of the practice.

Here are the areas in your practice where you can take immediate action to improve your billing practices and decrease the likelihood of claim rejections for the long haul:

Obtain prior authorizations

“A properly trained staff person who is responsible for obtaining authorizations will be familiar with the requirements of each insurance plan and be kept updated when a carrier changes their authorization requirements,” Rowe says. “Having software designed to initiate and track authorizations is key to reducing these types of denials.”

Hire a dedicated billing team

“Having a team member who runs your front desk do your billing on the side is a really bad idea. You need a dedicated billing team experienced with your specialty, ” says Silva.

Essentially, your billing team controls how fast money flows into your practice. You deserve to have a team dedicated to tracking claims and payments full-time.

Train your front desk staff

“Front desk staff need to be very diligent in asking for updated insurance information and should also use the eligibility functionality within their PM/EMR software to verify eligibility at the time appointments are made to avoid these rejections,” says Rowe. As your front desk staff is your first line of defense, make sure they have the tools and education to set your billing team up for success.

Focus 60 percent of efforts on follow-up

“If your team is not spending the majority of their efforts on the follow-up – they’re either not billing for all of the services provided, writing off balances as uncollectable instead of following-up, or simply letting your accounts receivables climb without care – all of it will lose you money,” Silva says.

Invest in technology

“Purchase a card scanner with OCR capabilities to automatically capture patient ID numbers. [This] helps avoid data entry-related claim rejections,” Rowe says.

Reject smart edits

“I advise practices to reference the list of smart edits and build coding rules in their practice management software to proactively avoid specific coding combinations,” says Rowe.

Request reports

“The right billing cycle reports will give you predictable collections month-after-month,” says Silva. “This is how you track your billing team without micromanaging.” Rowe also advocates for regular reporting. “The best way for practices to see where their revenue shortfalls or delays are is to regularly look at their outstanding claims reports by carrier,” she says. “It will be easy to see denial trends and quickly react to them.”

Set regular review meetings

“Set times to review your reports with your billing team,” Silva says. “Ask questions, delegate projects, and hunt down payments for every claim billed. Showing that you care will make your team care.”


“Carriers are constantly updating their policies regarding authorization requirements and medical necessity. Appoint someone in the practice to read quarterly carrier update documents and troll websites for new information,” says Rowe. “Local coding chapters are also great resources for those working in smaller practices.”

Now you have the tools to start conversations with key members of your practice about strategies for decreasing claim rejections and insurance denials. Knowing where your practice falls short will help you establish a plan for actionable change. From there, you can build a strategy that’s equal parts education, accountability, and tenacity.

Your days of increased revenue and more clean claims are on the horizon.

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How This Veteran Overcame a Military Injury to Launch Her Thriving Business

Launching a business means dealing with all kinds of adversity. But with enough effort and the right attitude, you can overcome nearly any challenge. Just ask Nneka Brown-Massey, CEO of Innovative Supplies. Brown-Massey suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) during her military service.

Despite her injury, Brown-Massey launched a successful business and created badly-needed jobs for her community. We spoke with Nneka to hear her inspirational story and find out what advice she has for other business owners dealing with their own struggles.

Serving Her Country

Brown-Massey has been connected to the military nearly her entire life–her parents were also service members. “My Mom was a supply specialist and my Dad was a cook. Growing up I knew I wanted to be in the army as well.” As Brown-Massey turned 18, her parents asked her what she wanted to do. She would likely go overseas.

Ultimately, Brown-Massey decided to join human resources and shipped out to Afghanistan at age 18. She worked in the military post office to process mail and help soldiers with their passport applications.

After her tour of duty, Brown-Massey enrolled in the Basic Leadership Course at Fort Benning, Georgia. For most people, this would already be enough. But, Brown-Massey kept pushing. “I wanted to pick up additional skills so I applied for Airborne School, an unusual move for someone in Human Resources.” It took her three tries, but she ultimately qualified.

An Unfortunate Injury

Airborne School training meant participating in parachute jumps. This is how Brown-Massey became injured–she banged her head on multiple jumps. She describes the aftermath of one accident. “I was walking down my hallway and something didn’t feel right. I waved my hand in front of my face and I just saw a trail of hands following that hand.”

From that point on, Brown-Massey began dealing with the long-term issues from her concussion: light and noise sensitivity, constant headaches and fatigue. “I was so used to having a fully charged battery at all times. Now it’s more like a four-hour window.”

Concerns Over the Future

Due to her Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Brown-Massey had to leave the military after nine years of service. She was concerned about what would come next for herself and her family. “When you get injured in the military, you qualify for disability income benefits. But for me, that’s only $550 a month and not much to live on with my 8-year-old daughter.”

She knew she needed to earn more. Brown-Massey worried about whether her TBI would get in the way of a regular 9-5 job. “I noticed that I have a lot of anxiety. What if my disability affects how I perform for someone else? Would I get let go earlier than other workers, even if I push myself?”

She was also concerned about whether employers would understand her condition and be able to accommodate her needs. “When we think dramatic brain injuries like concussions, we think of football players or veterans who got blown up in a vehicle with a roadside bomb. But we rarely talk about other ways veterans get hurt and how it affects them.”

Turning Adversity into an Opportunity

With these health concerns in-mind, Brown-Massey delayed taking a 9-5 job and instead returned to school to continue her studies. It’s during this time that she spotted a perfect opportunity. “I wanted some nice, artistic stationary to get ready for class, but I just couldn’t find anything at T.J. Maxx or Walmart. I figured there’s got to be something out there that I like, but there just wasn’t.”

At the same time, Brown-Massey wanted to support her artist friends. “I always saw nice artists posting their work on Instagram and wondered how can I get that out to more people? That’s when I realized, stationary. People always need stationary.” The idea for Innovative Supplies was born.

Even though Brown-Massey had never launched a business before, she believed her military experience gave her the tools needed to succeed. “The military spends around $1 million training their soldiers. I wanted to use my leadership skills to help my community.” This would help her avoid the common mistakes new small business owners make.

Building a Business

She started by reaching out to one artist she really liked on Instagram and together they designed their first round of notebooks. They posted the design on Instagram–Innovative Supplies was an instant hit. “Our Instagram posts went viral and received millions of views. My artist friend earned $3,000 in commissions that first year alone.”

After proving her idea worked, Brown-Massey began hiring staff to expand. She hires a lot of teenagers for her business, especially those who are at-risk and would benefit from work experience. “I want them to develop real skills: communicating with one another, learning inventory management, how to respond to customer emails. I let them run the show and just supervise.”

In her first year of business in 2016, Brown-Massey hired 15 students part-time to manage Innovative Supplies. With her initial launch a success, Brown-Massey would like to grow her workforce even more and aims to hire at least 30 students throughout 2020.

Advice for Other Business Owners

Brown-Massey had to overcome her share of challenges and doubts. “When I face adversity, I think back to the good times I’ve had and that inspires me to keep going.” She reminds herself about the first 8,000 notebooks she sold within 24 hours and how that didn’t happen by chance. If you’re ever in a tough business stretch, she suggests thinking about your past positive results and feel confident that you can do it again.

Brown-Massey also turns to her internal motivation for launching the business in the first place. “I remind myself why I started, to give students a way to make an honest dollar. A lot of students in my community may not have the opportunity to make money in a legal manner. This keeps me going during tough times.”

She challenges other business owners to think the same way. If you find motivation beyond just making a profit, it can give you the strength to overcome adversity.

Success Prevails

Brown-Massey went from worrying about whether her military injury would prevent her from finding employment to becoming a successful business owner, and helping others in her community launch their careers.

She hopes her story can inspire others dealing with adversity that they too can find the right opportunity, if they believe in themselves. We’d like to thank Brown-Massey for sharing her story and for her service to our country. We wish her the best of luck to continue growing Innovative Supplies.

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Best Books for Small Business Owners – Built to Last

November Monthly Must-Reads: Best Books for Small Business Owners

Life-long learning is an essential ingredient to business and career success. However, it’s easier said than done – especially for business owners with a lot on their plate. If you own and/or run a business, you may find it difficult to make time for your own learning and professional development. So, we’re here with a strategy that you can fold into your everyday life: Reading the best books for small business owners. Keep up with current innovation, management and workforce trends by reading the right business books for your situation.

Save time by staying tuned to our Monthly Must-Reads series in which we cover well-known and new business books. For each featured book, we share its main focus and key take-aways, allowing you to determine within a minute whether it’s worth your valuable time. This month, we’re sharing Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. For a list of past Monthly Must-Reads, see the bottom of this blog post.

Business Book:

Built to Last, by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras


What goes into building a successful company that lasts for generations to come

Main Idea:

Visionary companies that achieved long-term success did so by identifying and staying true their purpose.

“Managers at visionary companies simply do not accept the proposition that they must choose between short-term performance or long-term success. They build first and foremost for the long term while simultaneously holding themselves to highly demanding short-term standards.” – Built to Last

Great for Small Business Owners Who:

Want to take a long-term view of success and build a strong company culture.


Building upon their six-year research project at Stanford University Graduate School of Business, Collins and Porras surveyed hundreds of CEOs at leading corporations. They used these responses along with industry research to identify 18 leading organizations that they call “visionary companies.” These visionary companies have not only stood the test of time, but many have also outpaced their competitors, even ones that had formerly been industry leaders.

So, what did they have in common that helped them rise above their rivals? Collins and Porras compare these companies to their peers throughout various stages of their lifecycles. In Built to Last, the authors lay out their discovery: The practical principles—with examples—behind how visionary companies set themselves apart.

Key Take-Aways:

  • Visionary companies identify their purpose and live for it. A purpose is a meaningful reason for a company to exist. In a truly visionary company, every decision meets and must support the organization’s guiding purpose.
  • Purpose takes precedence – especially over short-term profits. The leaders of time-tested visionary companies put their purpose first every time in order to support their long-term mission.

Reviewers Say:

“As a well-researched book might indicate, the authors provide a tremendous amount of detail on what makes companies such as Coca-Cola, Citi Bank, Wal-Mart, Walt Disney, Nordstrom, stand the test of time. These companies have been active in our lives for generations, and they reveal exactly how they have endured, and how they will continue to endure for many generations to come. Whether you are an entrepreneur, owner, middle manager or a salesman, this book will undoubtedly inspire you to reach great heights.”

“Thoroughly researched and filled with great points. … after the first few chapters, it becomes incredibly redundant. I could only read about Ford and 3M’s same success stories so many times before I became saturated with it and couldn’t take another dose. For the last few chapters, I read the first few pages and then went to the chapter’s ‘Take Away’ section and still got everything I wanted out of the book.”

Check out some of our other Monthly Must-Reads Business Books:

August – Blitzscaling

September – The E-Myth Revisited

October – Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

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A veteran’s journey from the Marine Corp to international Loden coat and jacket merchant

The journey from Marine desert sand uniforms to stylish European apparel might seem like an improbable one. Not for Robert W. Stolz. Robert served four years with the Marine Corps following 9/11. This journey yielded lessons that brought success to his growing sustainable clothing brand of men’s and women’s Loden wool coats.

This career transition includes a crucial intermediate stop and marrying a woman from Austria. Austria happens to be home to the centuries-old tradition of durable Loden clothing. His wife presented Stolz with a traditional Loden jacket. When wearing it in the U.S., he often received compliments for its distinctive design. Later while living in Austria, he visited the traditional Loden mills. He was impressed by the environmental and social benefits of wearing high-quality sustainable clothing. This sparked an innate entrepreneurial streak that was absent from his years in the Marine Corps.

The Perfect Opportunity

Stolz learned German in order to pursue a degree in business strategy at the University of Vienna. While living with his wife in Austria, his studies coincided with his efforts to ramp up RobertWStolz.com. He focused on strategy, business intelligence and e-commerce. “It was the perfect opportunity to tailor my education to what I needed to know to build my business,” he says.

But “book learning” only takes you so far. Experiences during his military service from boot camp through his leadership duties as a sergeant played a vital role as well. “In the military,” he says, “I had to learn how to work with and motivate people from very diverse backgrounds. Part of that entailed learning how to be trusted and respected by subordinate Marines.”

Stolz formed relationships with mills and manufacturers in the Austrian clothing industry. Showing respect and kindness went a long way. “They had to take me seriously if I was to get what I needed, despite my lack of experience,” he says.

He needed breathing room in payment terms from his suppliers. But, it’s no small feat for a new retailer with no prior relationship with suppliers to receive credit for branded goods, but Stolz pulled it off.

Confidence Booster

Meeting the demands of military service in high-pressure situations bolstered Stolz’s confidence in making his ability to make his business a success. “It empowered me to think big and take on a huge, vaguely defined project like starting a company from scratch,” he adds.

The scope of the project stems partly from his need to acquire expertise in many areas Stolz had little or no background in. Those included wool fabric manufacturing, content development, web design, social media marketing, e-commerce financial administration and order processing, managing foreign currency exposure, international shipping logistics and customs regulations, to name a few.

The “project,” as Stolz calls his business launch, was “vaguely defined” . There was no precedent to use as an example. No American created a fashion label based on the unique qualities of Loden. He knew the products were exceptional and not readily available in the United States. There had to be a way to make it work.

Competitive Advantages

Stolz believes he has some valuable competitive advantages that are applicable to other kinds of small business ventures. Those include:

  • A small size with the owner focused on all facets of operations “enables prompt decision-making and the ability to pivot quickly when necessary.”
  • Low overhead costs, without the need to lease real estate or purchase expensive equipment.
  • No fixed contracts with marketing/advertising agencies, which provides flexibility in managing cash flow.
  • A lean cost structure that allows him to price his products competitively.
  • Being launched as an e-commerce business, he doesn’t have “any legacy issues transitioning to the digital economy and digital marketing channels.”
  • Being “born global” with European suppliers and a U.S. market, the company is well-positioned to expand into other global markets.

Even though there have been setbacks, Stolz did not assume that long-term success was inevitable. “I knew that the risk of failure was very high, and was prepared to accept failure and move on if it didn’t work out. It would be a great complement to my business, even if it didn’t take off.”

He didn’t anticipate experiencing an extended murky period of not knowing whether success will be achieved. Stolz says he expected to determine within a year or two whether the business would fly, or not. He thought it would either crash and burn right away, or take off. Things have not worked out that way.

Finding Your Product Market Fit

Instead, he experienced success in some areas, and not in others. For example, the market segment he originally assumed would be his strongest—”younger people concerned with ethical fashion”—turned out to be a disappointment. He found greater success with “an older demographic who appreciate the high quality of Loden and its sophisticated European style.”

And then, there are the usual problems that plague any business. Suppliers, service providers and logistics companies sometimes blow deadlines or fail to deliver.

“I guess the tenacity I acquired in the Marines has helped see me through the emotional ups and downs of the entrepreneurship roller coaster.”

What keeps Stolz going is a strong interest in almost all of the facets of the business. He says tasks like bookkeeping can be tedious. Even bookkeeping can become interesting, if not actually fun, “when the financial picture is positive,” he says.

He shares four lessons he has learned from running his business thus far:

  1. Running a business is an emotional roller coaster. When a business is your own creation, it’s hard not to take the inevitable ups and downs to heart.
  2. Make sure you aren’t financially dependent on the business until it’s well underway.
  3. Every product idea or business model should be tested to validate that it solves a problem, and if somebody is willing to pay for your solution.
  4. Don’t start your business in a vacuum with a “go it alone” mindset. Look for resources (including those uniquely available to veterans) and “become part of the ecosystem your business belongs to, with a network of people who can give you advice or introduce you to others who can.”

A “go it alone” approach could spell disaster in the military. “Lives might not be at stake if your business stumbles,” Stolz says. “But a collaborative, proactive approach will help you to avoid the business equivalent of a military defeat, and boost your prospects for a victory.”

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How Fearless Cooking Became an Environmentally-Friendly, Sustainable Business

Catherine Siebel, a former sociology professor from Northeastern Illinois University and a mother of two, was getting to know other parents in her Chicago neighborhood when she realized a surprising fact about cooking.

“A lot of parents were asking for help with pretty basic things, like how to make French toast,” says Siebel. [Siebel] is the owner of Fearless Cooking, a concept that began as a pop-up shop before becoming a Chicago storefront. “The sociologist in me was interested in this idea that there’s been easily two generations now who didn’t see cooking growing up, they only saw microwaving.”

While there are plenty of cooking schools in Chicago, Siebel realized there weren’t a lot of options for people who wanted basic cooking skills.

That’s when Siebel, who has a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Illinois at Chicago, came up with the idea to create an eco-focused cooking store geared towards everyday home cooks.

But she needed a plan.

“Just because you like to knit doesn’t mean you should open a yarn store,” Siebel says with a laugh. “Being passionate about a topic like cooking isn’t the same skillset as being able to run a business. That is something people often confuse.”

Conducting Market Research

To launch a business, Siebel knew she’d need some help.

“Having a sociology doctorate is great, but it doesn’t prepare you for running a business,” Siebel says.

To find mentors and business education workshops, Siebel turned to SCORE, a nonprofit organization that partners with the U.S. Small Business Administration and the city of Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs & Consumer Protection.

The classes helped Siebel answer fundamental questions such as: “Who is your target audience?” and “Why is someone going to buy your product?”

“Or to have someone tell you to get a better plan than this,” she says.

Siebel also made a point of saying yes to any reasonable business suggestion. She’s been to events such as the Inspired Home Show, formerly called the International Home + Houseware Show in Chicago.

“I tried to get out of my comfort zone,” Siebel says.

Siebel slowly began researching her business idea, first by making observations about friends who weren’t good at cooking.

“I wanted to see if I could figure out what their hang-ups were,” she says.

Then, Siebel conducted a few focus groups to gauge the interest of potential customers. She polled parents to better understand the types of cooking classes they’d like to take. She also surveyed their cooking skills by asking what types of foods – if any – could they cook without a recipe.

“If people aren’t confident cooks, they will not improvise, they will not substitute,” Siebel says. “So if a recipe calls for a half of teaspoon of basil and they don’t have basil then they won’t make the recipe instead of realizing there are a million other things you can do.”

She also realized a lot of inexperienced home cooks buy cheaply-made cooking tools that don’t work very well.

“And then people wonder why they don’t do as well, but it doesn’t occur to them it’s the tool,” says Siebel. That’s why she sells as many USA-made, eco-friendly cooking tools in her shop as possible.

Learning How to Run a Business

In 2017, after several years of prep-work, Siebel tried, unsuccessfully, for nine months to negotiate a commercial lease in Chicago.

After being told Fearless Cooking was a “stupid business idea,” Siebel found her current storefront location and signed a lease in January 2018. Following an initial approval from the city of Chicago, she began construction in the spring of 2018. In a 3,800-square-foot building, she has a 2,100-square-foot retail and kitchen space.

Siebel hired 2 Point Perspective, a boutique architectural firm in Chicago known for sourcing eco-friendly and reclaimed materials. She also partnered with ReBuilding Exchange, a Chicago nonprofit that repurposes building materials, creating all of her cabinetry out of reclaimed wood.

After passing her first three rounds of city inspections, Siebel thought her storefront would open in June or July 2018.

On her fourth inspection, Siebel says the city told her she had to put in a $40,000 black iron, restaurant-grade exhaust hood over the stove if she wanted to open Fearless Cooking. This hadn’t been in the original plans the city had approved or addressed in the first three inspections.

Devastated, Siebel cried and then went for a long walk.

“I wanted to put in a residential hood because it was critically important to me that my space wasn’t intimidating and looked like someone’s home kitchen, not a restaurant kitchen,” she says. “I wanted people to think that whatever they do here they can go home and replicate.”

Siebel realized she needed to find a work-around.

She spent several months “working through the chain of command” within the city of Chicago. Siebel knew she needed to find a source of income to offset her expensive cooking store buildout and the $2,500 monthly rent she was paying on a space that still wasn’t open for business.

Becoming an Innovative Entrepreneur

In preparation for the opening of Fearless Cooking, Siebel started building a Facebook following and a website. During the summer before her original opening date, she also paid for a booth at a local street fair and collected email addresses of potential customers.

She didn’t want to lose momentum.

In October 2018, Siebel signed a five-month lease on a 2,000-square-foot pop-up space located a block from her storefront and opened for business.

She was strapped for cash. Siebel says she hung up curtains for her backroom while her staff made a desk out of two cardboard boxes and plank for an office.

“With the grace of God we got it going,” she says with “pretty good” fourth-quarter sales revenue of $65,000.

She was first unable to offer cooking classes. Siebel focused on filling her shop with cookware, bakeware, tools and gadgets. She had a kid’s section, too. She  sells serve ware, linens, hostess gifts and accessories including eco-friendly “stasher” bags (as alternatives to disposable plastic bags), stainless steel straws and reusable beeswax food wrap.

“I try as hard as I can to find as many local things as possible,” Siebel says. “It’s what I believe in personally; but it makes business sense to find things that people can’t find on Amazon.”

Having a pop-up store before she officially opened her Fearless Cooking storefront helped Siebel get in front of her target customers. She says collecting the emails of more than 800 unique customers helped increase her social media following.

That traction helped Siebel.

How to Become an Innovative Environmentally-Friendly, Sustainable Business
Source: Mike Kaskel

Where is Fearless Cooking Now?

She got approval from city inspectors to use a residential-style cooking hood in the kitchen. Siebel opened her storefront location in July 2019.

In addition to hosting cooking classes, Siebel’s staff now also composts all the food waste. She says “it’s one of the things that annoys my staff the most because it’s inconvenient.”

Her advice to other small business entrepreneurs: hire an attorney and realtor to negotiate your commercial lease.

“It is worth every penny,” she says, even if you’ve barely got the money to write the check. And then listen to customer feedback and let go of ideas that don’t resonate with customers.

“You have this idea of how it’s going to look in the beginning,” says Siebel, who discarded an idea to rent large kitchen gadgets like pasta makers. “And then you listen to your customers.”

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12 Black Friday Marketing Tips for Small Businesses

Black Friday shoppers are looking for a deal. They want to see something unique and expect huge discounts. Here are 12 Black Friday marketing tips to get you thinking about what you can do to make your business stand out.

1. Promote Before Black Friday
Build suspense by sending emails to your customer list 10 to 14 days before Black Friday promoting your soon-to-come irrestible offers. Post your coming promotions on your website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Use relevant hashtags to get traffic.

2. Have Sales Before Black Friday
There is no reason that you have to wait until Black Friday to have a sale. You can start building up enthusiasm and expectation by having flash sales in the days before.

3. Start Your Specials Later in the Morning
Don’t try to compete with the big box stores and their early morning stampedes. You can’t. Open your store later in the morning but have your own special doorbuster campaign for the first few hours. Send emails a few days before Black Friday to alert customers to your opening times and make them aware of special early discounts. This way the customer knows to expect early deals, but they don’t have to get up at 3:00AM to take advantage.

4. Offer Hourly Online Deals on Your Website
Offer a special deal on a certain product every hour for four hours, for example. You can tell the website visitor which items are coming up for special prices, or, on the other hand, don’t tell the visitor and create a mystery that they have to check back in to find out.

5. Offer Hourly In-store Deals
Like the special hourly online deals, do the same promotions in-store. For instance, offer 25% off on certain products through midday, then, in the afternoon, offer a free gift with every purchase over $XX or have two-for-one sales on certain items that complement each other.

6. Offer Gift Cards
Gift cards are simple, but hugely popular. Three-quarters of buyers with gift cards will spend more than the amount of the card. Display them prominently, next to the register or at a pickup counter, and make sure to have an ample supply ready to go.

Make gift cards even more enticing by offering a deal to the purchaser: Buy a $50 gift card and get a free gift or a $10 gift card for themselves. Another option is to sell a $100 gift card for $80. Customers don’t have to buy anything today; give them a year to come back and use the card.

7. Create a Gift Guide
Create categories based on price points (10 Gifts under $50), gender or product colors. Promote individual gift guide items on social media. Include pictures and links to make quick purchases. Maybe have a flyer in-store that the customer can take to guide their Christmas shopping.

8. Offer Free Services With Purchase
This should be something useful, like free shipping. This is a well-known offer, but customers still love it. Go the extra mile; offer free wrapping or, if appropriate, delivery.

9. Bundle Products
Look in your business for ways to create bundles of products instead of making individual sales. Put together combinations of three to four complementary products. Bundles make great gift packs and can offer more value to the consumer with discounted prices that are less than the total when sold individually.

10. Offer Special Discounts
Give exclusive discounts to senior citizens, students, military personnel and teachers.

11. Reward Social Media
Work the social media scene (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter). Use hashtags that customers can pull up on their mobile phones to receive special discounts.

12. Reward for Sign-ups
Customers who sign up for emails and your newsletter get an exclusive Black Friday deal, such as another 10% off.

An effective Black Friday campaign requires thought and planning. Start making your plan early to give yourself time to think about ideas, identify any potential problem areas and find solutions. Ask yourself these questions to get started:

  • Which product and services do you want to promote?
  • What discounts will you offer?
  • Where will you advertise these specials to your customers?
  • Will you offer online or in-store deals, or both?
  • When will your campaign begin and end?
  • What preparations will your employees need to handle the orders?

What’s Your Hook?
Create offers that make customers feel they are getting great value for their money. Build a strategy that offers deals for both the gift buyers and those buying for themselves. Remember that customers gained during Black Friday/Cyber Monday will likely come back to make more purchases during the year.

Start your promotions early and extend deals for four days through Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.
Offer specials for different products during the four days: For example, promote 25% off sweaters one day and 25% off shoes the next. This encourages repeat visits.

Use the Black Friday marketing tips above to create a total, overall campaign. Think of it as a journey that will last until next year.

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How Small Businesses Can Win Big on Black Friday

If you don’t have a small business Black Friday plan yet, there’s still time.

According to the National Retail Federation, holiday spending will increase and total holiday sales will top $730 billion for 2019. Many small businesses find Black Friday is one of their biggest shopping days of the year.

Brands with a tangible plan benefit the most. Here’s how to ensure your small business Black Friday success.

Examine Past Data

Now is a great time to look at past Black Friday sales numbers. Data can help you make key decisions about ordering inventory, scheduling staff and determining the best hours of operation. Look at what sold the most, the timeframes you were busiest and which channels customers used. Did anything break down? For example, if long lines hamstrung sales due to light staffing early in the morning, use that intel to change the way you approach planning for 2019.

Work Your Email List

Leveraging your email list is a great way to cut through holiday advertising noise and get your most important messages right in customers’ inboxes. Take these steps to make the most of your email list:

  • Warm up the list before Black Friday. If your list has been languishing, send out at least one message before the holiday and tease big deals, exclusive content and other selling points.
  • Be strategic with timing. You don’t want to fatigue your list, but remember that sending a few emails spaced before and during Black Friday will keep your brand top of mind.
  • Segment your email list to help make messaging as relevant as possible.

Plan Your Social Campaign

Social media lets you connect with busy customers. Plan your strategy now. November is the perfect time to create posts, source images and schedule content ahead of time. That way, even when your team is focused on other things, your social presence will run smoothly throughout the shopping period around Black Friday. Diversify your content. Feature your best deals and consider exclusive doorbusters to get social fans buying online or into the store. Mix in a bit of humor, fun seasonal posts and a touch of personality. Customers will remember that you helped lower their stress.

Get Inventory In-Store

You can’t sell items that you don’t have on hand. Evaluate your inventory now, and place orders well ahead of demand. If you’re struggling with cash flow, consider a short-term business loan. Funding can help you get the goods in stock to meet customer needs on Black Friday and beyond. Look at your historical data to see what’s likely to sell. You can also gather market intelligence on what influencers are discussing and what customers are asking about for the upcoming holiday season.

Stress Test Your Digital Systems

One of the biggest myths about small business Black Friday planning is that your focus should be entirely in-store. Consumers unwilling to brave the crowds shop online and look for deals ahead of Cyber Monday. Now is a great time to stress test your digital systems and fix issues. Upgrade your hosting to support traffic bursts, explore features such as scheduling your newsletter and remove friction from your order process. If you’re adding new features, such as accepting different payment types, get that resolved and fully tested now.

Create Gift Guides

Holiday shoppers are often stressed about what gifts to give. What do you get for the boss who has everything? Is there a gift a picky teenager is sure to love? Consider highlighting your products and offerings with gift guides that can inspire buyers and get them through your door on Black Friday. Your website, social media, email newsletter and print mailings — as well as in-store printouts — are all great ways to repackage this content.

Choose One Showstopper Deal

Getting people into your store or website is often the biggest small business Black Friday challenge. Consider offering one deal customers can’t refuse. Early bird giveaways, steep one-day discounts, exclusive bundles and value-add packages are all great ways to get audiences interested and engaged.

If you don’t have a small business Black Friday strategy in place, don’t panic. There’s still plenty of time to get your inventory, staffing and marketing aligned to make a big splash and have a profitable day. Whether you just need time to plan, or if a cash flow infusion from a small business loan would help, do the work now. You’ll have happy customers, increased revenues and smoother operations on retail’s biggest day of the year.

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7 Networking Tips for Small Business Owners

You’re going to a networking event this month, and if you’re being honest with yourself, you’re feeling a bit anxious. It’s not like anyone ever taught you how to connect with others and promote yourself in school or when starting your business. You don’t want to mess this opportunity up.

Here’s the good news: there’s no need to stress. With a little pre-planning, a positive attitude, and a motivation to build new relationships, you’ll be a professional networker in no time. To start, here are 7 networking tips for small business owners.

Be Strategic

“Developing a strategy and plan for networking is vital to get the most out of your networking efforts,” says Carrie Sharpe, communications consultant and speaker, in an interview for this article. She continues, “It’s helpful to know in advance if there’s a particular person you’d like to meet, or if you’d like to connect with someone in a specific field.

Utilize the Buddy System

Are you feeling anxious about attending on your own? Don’t! Invite someone to come with you if being solo is affecting your decision to attend.

Sharpe says, “Sometimes it helps to go to networking events with a friend, coworker, or spouse. That way you have someone to sit with, encourage you, and help keep conversations going. Working as a team like that can alleviate some anxiety.”

If you don’t have anyone to connect with, use social media to find someone else who will be attending the event and plan with them to meet up.

Craft & Practice Your Elevator Pitch

How do you feel talking about yourself and your business? Usually, one of the hardest aspects to networking for small business owners is answering the question “what do you do?” After that, conversation flows a bit easier.

The best way to manage this is to come up with an “elevator pitch” that you can share when meeting new business. Keep it short, you basically want to sum up what your job title is, and who you help in a couple sentences. Bonus points if you can share a highlight or recent win in your introduction.

If you met me at an event you might hear, “I’m a content strategist who helps businesses use SEO and storytelling to attract the perfect-for-them customers. Just this week one of my client’s articles moved to the first page of search results.”

Ask Questions

Now that you know how to introduce yourself, it’s important to learn how to connect with others. The easiest way to do that is to ask questions about the person you’re speaking with.

“If you have the goal of building relationships, asking questions to get to know the other person is key,” says Sharpe. “There is no pressure on you to do all the talking. Be a good listener, and ask open-ended questions. Learn about other people, and allow them to shine.”

Not sure what to ask? Here are a few suggestions from Sharpe:

  • “Who is your favorite kind of person to work with?”
  • “What do you have going on in your business right now that really excites you?”
  • “Oh, really? Why is that?”


Photo by HIVAN ARVIZU @soyhivan on Unsplash

Walk the Walls

One of the easiest to implement networking tips for small business owners is to introduce yourself to the people on the outskirts instead of walking straight into the crowd.

Sharpe agrees and says, “Instead of looking to the mob of people congregating in the center of the room, find a person or two along the edge of the room and focus on them. A few strong connections trumps several surface-level ones.”

End the Conversation

Sometimes leaving the conversation to meet someone new can be awkward. However, you can say goodbye in a way that’s beneficial to you both. First, make sure to ask for the individual’s contact information if you’d like to connect after the event. Then, ask your new connection how you can be of service to them best.

Sharpe suggests saying something to the effect of, “I know time is limited and you need to talk to other people here, too, so in our last couple minutes tell me how I can best support you and your business.”

Follow Up

It’s important to follow up, and right away! If you wait too long, you’re risking that your new connection may forget you or mistake you for someone else they’ve met.

Main photo: Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

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Best Books for Small Business Owners – Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

October Monthly Must-Reads: Best Books for Small Business Owners

As a business owner, you likely wear many hats, from human resources to operations and from sales to fulfillment. So, where do you fit in time for learning and professional development?

Keep up with innovation, business and leadership trends by reading the right business books for your small business.

In our Monthly Must-Reads series, we share a featured business book’s main focus and key take-aways, so you can determine within a minute if it’s relevant to you and your small business—really, whether it’s worth your valuable time. This month, we’re covering Dr. Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which seeks to teach you how to use six universal principles of persuasion as well as how to be aware of when others use them on you.

Business Book:

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini


Understanding the psychology and main principles behind effective persuasion

Main Idea:

There is useful science behind how people are persuaded

Great for Small Business Owners Who:

Want to improve their sales conversations


Dr. Cialdini identifies and explains six principles of persuasion. He argues that utilizing them ethically will help readers more successfully win people over to their way of thinking. In fact, he says, employing tactics related to each principle to make small, free and practical changes can often improve your results.

While exploring each principle, Cialdini shares research and past studies that illustrate each principle in action. He then uses real-life examples to help readers understand each one in ways that will help them apply these principles to their own efforts.

The six principles are:

  • Reciprocity – The inclination to return favors
  • Scarcity – When people perceive a scarcity, demand tends to go up
  • Authority – People want to believe they’re working with someone who’s credible
  • Consistency – If someone has previously said or done something, they’re more likely to take a similar or related action than those who have not
  • Liking – People are more likely to go along with someone they like
  • Consensus – People are more likely to go along with your points if you can show that others agree with you
Key Take-Aways:
  • Understanding and using these principles empowers you to grow more persuasive—in an entirely ethical way.
  • When trying to persuade people:
    • Build the beginning of a positive relationship by looking for similarities between yourselves and consider genuine compliments you can offer.
    • Always be the first to give. Something unexpected and even personalized works best.
    • Share not only what is unique about your offering or argument, but also what they stand to lose if they don’t consider your ideas.
    • Find ways to present or display proofs of your credibility.
    • Look for ways to tie your ideas to something that they have said or done in the past.
    • Show them that others—especially people similar to themselves—already agree with and/or have acted on your ideas.
Reviewers Say:

“I own perhaps 2,000 books on the subject of selling. This is certainly in the top 5.”

“This book is dated and largely appears to pre-date what we consider the modern internet/TV phenomenon, and that’s obvious in reading it. That’s its only real flaw… and, to be fair, this wouldn’t likely receive much improvement from an updated revision. [The] lessons inside about how we are susceptible to persuasion don’t really need updating… they are solid enough, outlined well enough, and supported with facts and data enough that they withstand the obvious test of time.”

“I read this book when it first came out 25 years ago. It had an enormous impact on my thinking and behavior. Since then, I have recommended it to thousands of people…In return, I have had hundreds of people thank me for recommending it. I recently decided to reread the updated version. It does not disappoint. I will still be recommending it. I would say that this is a book you need to read in self-defense, if for no other reason. You have no idea how many times a day people try to influence you using the techniques described in this book. If you like to think that you are an autonomous person who thinks for yourself, you would be wrong. This book shows just how much you respond to influence cues in your environment without any thought at all. Unfortunately, we all function on autopilot far more often than we realize. This book will help you get off of autopilot, at least some of the time.”

Kapitus Monthly Must-Read Business Books:

August – Blitzscaling

September – The E-Myth Revisited

October – Influence

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How Kaitlyn Pierce Transitioned from a High School Dropout to Biz Owner and Product Inventor

Entrepreneurs are a hearty bunch. They need drive, determination, and moxie to handle the learning curves and setbacks most business owners deal with. But does that mean that entrepreneurs Kaitlyn Pierce, Creator of Binka Bearneed not worry about their mental health? Far from it! According to a recent study done at the Universities of California (Berkeley and San Francisco), 72% of the entrepreneur respondents self-reported concerns with their own mental health.

Should these mental health issues hold individuals back from building a business or inventing a product? Absolutely not.

Meet Kaitlyn Pierce, mom of two, founder of Pierce Social, a social media agency, and inventor of Binka Bear, a toy which helps toddlers and young children wean from their pacifiers. When Pierce was 16 years old, dropped out of school to ease the extreme anxiety she was experiencing.

The Decision to Quit School

“At the time, I didn’t totally understand what I was feeling or why, I just knew I did not want to be in rooms full of people, no matter what,” says Pierce. “To this day the sound of an alarm clock triggers severe panic in me because to me it was the beginning of my struggle to get through the day.”

As a high school student, Kaitlyn Pierce missed over 100 days of school in only two years. She says, “I was non-functional in school and basically in life. I couldn’t go to class or participate.”

And on the days she did attend, she spent most of her time crying in her guidance counselor’s office. Obvious that the traditional educational system wasn’t working, her guidance counselors and her mother urged Pierce to quit school, obtain a General Education Diploma (GED), and attend college, if possible. While her struggles with anxiety didn’t immediately disappear, a huge weight was lifted off her shoulders. Pierce was now better able to take care of her mental health.

Of the decision, Pierce says, “I could have more freedom to make choices for myself. It should have been my first clue I would need to be my own boss one day.”

In fact, she was able to obtain her GED within a month or two after quitting school. She then began taking courses at her local community college.

Pierce says, “I really enjoyed learning. That was never my problem. I just needed to have more control over how and when it happened so I could learn the coping skills I needed to deal with the anxiety I had.” But attending school was still no easy feat for Pierce, and she needed to put in a lot of effort to manage her anxiety so she could move into this new chapter of her life.

She says, “I had no help getting to school. If I wanted to go to college, work, and start my life, I had to find a way to get there. I took the bus to campus every day for over a year before getting my first car at 18. I had to work to pay for it while I went to school and tried to figure out what I was even doing. Dropping out set me up to be the person I am now, the person who will find a way to make anything happen!” It also helped her understand how working through the anxiety offered greater rewards than simply letting it hold her back.

“My anxiety made it feel impossible at first to get on the phone with anyone, especially potential clients,” says Pierce. “I hated phone calls and without them I wouldn’t have the business I do now. I had to learn to have confidence in myself and how to move on when I am triggered.”


Educating Herself

Kaitlyn Pierce, Binka Bear and BookKaitlyn Pierce chose tenacity over anxiety. She still struggled with feelings of panic and overwhelm, but she worked through and didn’t allow the feelings to stand in her way. One thing that helped her was her self-taught interest in building websites and blogging.

She says, “I used to sit at my neighbor’s house and build websites on their computer until we got one of our own at home. My blog was focused on our community at the time, and I was using the new social media tools showing up to promote it. Because of that, I was approached by a local branding company and hired on the spot to help with social media and web development. I never finished my degree, but gained more experience doing the work than I could have dreamed of.”

After having her second child, Pierce was looking for more freedom and flexibility to be home with her children. She returned from maternity leave determined to make some life changes. Says Pierce, “I launched Pierce Social in July of 2016 and worked on it after bedtime and in the evenings until I was able to replace my income.”

Only four months after starting the company, she was able to give her notice.  And Pierce, officially, became a self-employed business owner.


Inventing a Product

Launching a business is a monumental feat, but Kaitlyn Pierce didn’t stop there. Just shortly after starting her social media agency, Pierce set the ball rolling to invent a product that she’s moved all the way through the manufacturing process. But, how does an individual take that large a leap? There’s a massive jump from owning your own business to also being a product inventor.

Pierce says, “Binka Bear is one of those things that I think I was just meant to do. The idea came to me when I was trying to wean my oldest from the pacifier. I had no idea how to get the pacifiers she loved so much away from her at almost 3 years old. We found a fun idea of putting them in a stuffed toy and the wheels began turning. It worked so well for us I knew if I could make it a process and a product it could help so many other families. ”

Though, while Kaitlyn Pierce knew how life changing Binka Bear could be for other families, she had absolutely no clue how to move from idea into manufacturing a real product.

She says, “I had no idea how to even begin so I didn’t. Not for another 18 months.” Then, on Thanksgiving night of 2017, she couldn’t keep the idea to rest any longer. Pierce says, “From there it never stopped growing and developing!” Now, Pierce has living proof of her idea.  Boxes of bears are sitting in her home, waiting to be matched with their future children. Her dream became a reality. Now, one small idea that helped her child is able to help children all over the country.

Regardless of the bumps in the road Pierce has faced, she’s still confident that dropping out of school to manage her anxiety was the best decision for her. “I’m grateful to not have the student debt so many of my friends have. Not having a degree has made certain things more challenging.  But, it’s been the path that was best for me.  And, I’ve spent a lot of time educating myself in other ways.”

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