How to Stress Test Your Small Business

In the banking world, advisors often talk about stress-testing portfolios — determining the effect of different scenarios on an individual’s or business’s holdings. The same should be done for a small business.

How prepared are you if the economy changes, and you need to dip into your reserves? How will you manage your cash flow? Do you, as a small business, have the resources to survive heavy losses if the worst-case scenario happens?

Here are six ways to help stress-test your business if there is a downturn in the economy.

1. Solicit advice from key advisors.

Do you have an advisory board or a brain trust of reliable partners? SCORE, a nonprofit that is a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, offers a network of volunteers including retired C-suite executives, who can help mentor.

Find your local chapter, which is typically done on a county by county basis, and attend a workshop or listen to a live or recorded webinar.

You can search for a SCORE mentor online or have the local chapter pair you with an expert who can help mentor you on your business goals. Some mentors bring in additional mentors to help with various aspects of your business, such as preparing for a potential downturn.

2. Create a plan for worst-case scenarios.

One of the more effective ways to prepare for a sluggish economy is to forecast trends. Look at what a dramatic drop in sales or a dramatic uptick in expenses might do to your business. Ask yourself what would happen if you lost a major vendor, product or service. What might this loss do to your company? Then decide where you could trim expenses, potentially increase profits or diversify your client-base.

3. Identify all your best customers.

Not all customers are created equally. That’s because some are more profitable than others. Once you’ve pinpointed who your best customers are, begin nurturing those relationships by continually adding value for them. Build brand loyalty for them by making sure it’s easy for them to do businesses with you. If a change in the economy affects your business, loyal, high-value customers may help sustain you until the market changes.

4. Review your financial cushioning.

Although the general recommendation for businesses has been six months, Hal Shelton, a SCORE mentor and angel investor says to look at how much you cash you need. Ask yourself these key questions:

  • How much cash have you been using?

Look at your “net burn rate,” the rate at which you spend your cash holdings. For example, if you are bringing in $10,000 but you are spending $4,000 in expenses, your net burn rate is $6,000

  • How much cash do you plan on using in the next 12-to-15 months?

Be conservative, but look at your monthly budget or the financial forecast in your business plan. Separately, look at actual cash expenditures as well as the cash in (sales) and cash out (expenditures).

  • What stage is your business?

If you’re a start-up, or ramping up your business and going to have big expenditures, that’s different than being in the middle of a more-established place.

  • How long will it take you to get more cash?

For many businesses, this is an unknown factor. Getting a loan from a bank, if they are willing to lend, can take several months. It usually takes at least a month to find a bank who might be willing to lend money and another month to fill out the paperwork. That’s contingent on already having a bank-ready business plan and an already established relationship.Shelton says pitching and presenting to potential angel investors takes significantly longer, usually at least six months or possibly nine months to a year.

5. Consider your borrowing options.

You don’t want to have to borrow money when you desperately need it. You want to borrow money before you anticipate you might need it, or at least have a good enough financial footing to be able to secure a line of credit or a business loan. Stephen L. Nelson a CPA in Redmond, Washington, offers some tips on how to forecast 12 months out using excel workbooks.

Shelton’s advice is to “Seek cash when you are in a position to explore options and negotiate from strength.” Then ask yourself: Can you still operate if your funding disappears?

6. Consider alternative funding options.

Besides traditional term loans, you may consider opening a business credit card or a business line of credit. There’s also equipment financing and grants for small business owners. If you have less than perfect credit or if you need money quickly as a business owner, a short-term loan may you be your best option.

By stress-testing your business’s finances and proactively planning now, you may help mitigate potential problems down the line.

How to Hire the Right Candidate

Sizing Up a Prospective Employee

When Chase Hillenmeyer takes a job applicant to lunch, something usually goes wrong — on purpose. For instance, Hillenmeyer, who runs a landscaping business in Lexington, Kentucky, will quietly go up to the server and ask that the applicant be brought a salad instead of the cheeseburger he ordered.

Hillenmeyer isn’t playing games; he’s determining how the potential hire deals with adversity. If the applicant treats the server with respect, and handles the mistake well, Hillenmeyer knows he’ll fit with the culture of his fifth-generation business.

Sizing up potential employees is one of the hardest and most difficult tasks for a business owner. A good hire can take the company to the next level, but a bad one is costly. “For a small company, a five-figure investment in the wrong person is a threat to the business,” writes entrepreneur Falon Fatemi in Forbes.

Ask Behavioral Questions

Knowing the importance of hiring well, some companies are shifting to “behavioral interviewing”.  This approach bypasses vague questions, like “What are your strengths?” that often lead to canned answers lacking any real substance or insight. Instead, applicants are quizzed on how they handled actual situations.

For example,Inc. Magazine suggests saying: “Describe a time when you recognized that you were unable to meet multiple deadlines. What did you do about it?” If you want to check an applicant’s communication skills, pin them down by saying: “Give an example of a time when you persuaded a boss, customer, or peer to your point of view, even when that individual may not have agreed with you.”

While this is a better approach than standard interview questions, you should still keep any eye out for any potential pitfalls or problems. Ron Friedman, a social psychologist and author of the Best Place to Work, found that 81% of applicants lie in interviews because they give the answer they think is expected. “In many cases, job interviews are entirely disconnected from the reality of people’s day to day job,” he says.

Run a Job Audition

Instead of interviews, some entrepreneurs favor “job auditions” where an applicant handles the actual tasks of the position. For example, a sales rep position will come in and sell to the company’s team. Or a web designer may be asked to create a landing page.

Friedman’s research shows these tryouts are a better indicator of success than job interviews. This is because they show how a person actually does the job rather than simply what’s on their resume.

Observe All Actions

Candidates are typically on their best behavior when being interviewed.  This makes it difficult to get a true feel for their personality, attitude and demeanor. Since one very important aspect of the interview process is determining whether a candidate will be a positive addition to your team, it’s important to figure out if the person is an “unsavory character” prior to bringing them on.

To help get a better idea of whether a candidates “in interview” personality is fake or authentic, observe how they are interacting with individuals outside of the actual interview – those who aren’t involved with the interview process. Were they pleasant and friendly with the receptionist? Were they cordial to other employees they passed along the way to and from the interview room. Closely watching their interactions with others, when the candidate doesn’t feel as if they are being closely watched.  Doing so can give you an idea of their true colors.

Hold a Brainstorm Session

Similar to a job audition, conducting a brainstorm session during an interview can indicate how a person can actually do the job. In addition, it can showcase how well you and the individual can effectively work together to complete projects and solve problems.

Before the Interview

The above tactics are great options once you get someone in FOR an interview.  But how do you go about narrowing down the candidate pool to determine who you should bring in to interview? With job postings sometimes receiving hundreds of applications, culling through resumes and cover letters can become extremely time consuming. Here are two ways to save time in assessing top candidates to interview.

Request a Video Introduction

Consider requesting a video introduction as part of the application/resume submission process – especially if presentation is a key part of the role. Video introductions can allow you to quickly gauge a candidates personality, skill set and enthusiasm for the role prior to bringing them it. Remember to note in your job description and directions for submission that the video does not have to be great quality and remember be sure to set a time limit on the video.

Nix the Cover Letters

Instead of requesting cover letters that are often templated, consider requesting candidates to “describe in 100 words”. You can ask them to describe why they’d be a good fit for the role. Or you can ask why this opportunity excites them. Or you can have them describe how they’d tackle a specific aspect or responsibility of the role. Descriptions of this nature require candidates to showcase their ability to think creatively (you can’t template unique thoughts!).   It can also show you bits of their personality and how they communicate. And, it’s a lot less time consuming and can be a lot more entertaining for you.

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Income Statements But Were Afraid To Ask

Editor’s Note: This is one of an eight-part series about key financial terms all business owners should know.

Chances are you’ve heard the word “Income Statement” at some point during your entrepreneurial journey. Maybe you’ve even reviewed one from your CPA or CFO (If so, bonus points!). But, if your eyes glaze over a bit when you hear the term.  Or, if you’re not entirely sure how an income statement is different than a balance sheet.  You’re in the right place.

What is an income statement?

It’s a financial report that shows a company’s financial performance over a specified period of time.  Typically income statements are reported on a monthly, quarterly, or annual bases. However, a report can address any time period. An income statement shows revenues and expenses from operating and non-operating activities, along with net profit or loss. Income statements are sometimes referred to as “profit and loss statements.”

Why are Income Statements Important?

Income statements provide an easy-to-review report of your company’s performance over a period of time. Comparing multiple income statements for multiple periods of time can give you insight into how your business is doing overall. For example, if sales are up but expenses are up even more, your net profit may be down.

How can Income Statements Impact Financing Options?

Because they show performance over a period of time, many lenders use income statements to assess how a business’ sales and net income are changing over time. For this reason, many potential lenders require multiple income statements to review.  They could potentially request three or more years’ worth, depending on the sum you’re financing or raising.

If you’re an entrepreneur exploring financing options, start reviewing your income statements. It’s best to review with your CPA or CFO, but if you don’t have one, use your accounting software to generate the monthly, quarterly, and annual reports now so you’re well-versed on your company’s financial health before you begin conversations with outside parties.

Ask An Expert

Bradley Klingsporn is a practicing CPA and Co-Founder/Co-Owner of Aardvark Wine Lounge in Green Bay, Wisconsin, so he knows a thing or two about why income statements are important to entrepreneurs.

Why is it important to have a handle on your income statement if you’re looking to raise capital?

Klingsporn: Not every company is a tech startup that can operate in the red for years and keep raising capital. Most businesses need to show profits or at least growth to convince investors to give you their money. Keeping close tabs on your income statement can help you know when it is a good time to raise capital and when it might be best to wait a few weeks if you expect some significant improvements.

What’s the biggest misunderstanding about income statements that you see from other entrepreneurs?

Klingsporn: Many small business owners have a difficult time differentiating regular ebbs and flows from trends. There is no hard and fast rule to determine whether a bad month is just a bad month or if it’s the start of a trend (the same can be true of good months). The income statement is a starting point that is used to begin understanding where the business is, but requires additional information to determine what that means for the future. For example, restaurants and bars will often see increased sales in months that have five weekends – to interpret these increases as growth could lead an owner to make capital improvements or hire additional staff that they may not be able to afford when the following month sees a decrease with only four weekends.

Give Me More

Just like it’s easier to travel in a foreign country when you know the language, it’s easier to raise capital (or secure any kind of funding for your business) when you’re familiar with key financial terms and their real-life applications. Want to get up to speed on your finances? Check out the other articles in this series which cover: turnover ratiodebt to income ratiopayables turnover ratiodebt service coverage ratiocurrent ratiocash flow statements, and inventory turnover ratio.

5 Ways to Increase Productivity at Your Business

Do These 5 Easy Things Today to Be More Productive Tomorrow

As a small business owner, do your goals include becoming more productive? If so, these five tips and techniques may make a difference.

Schedule Sleep and Exercise First

Prioritizing non-business activities such as sleep, exercise, spiritual practice, and time with family and friends may improve your physical and emotional well being.  And, being both physically and emotionally healthy can lead to a more productive day. For example, one MIT study found that exercise helps us better process information. A University of Arizona study found sleep-related symptoms negatively impacts daily productivity.

Schedule non-business activities in your digital or paper day planner before anything else. Then when business calls, you’ll be in the best physical and mental state to work efficiently and increase workplace productivity.

Track Your Daily Energy Levels and Distractions

Your energy levels rise and fall throughout the day, although energy level patterns may vary from person to person. At the same time, the level of distractions around you also varies.  This combination can significantly enhance or impede your productivity.

Recently, 75% of respondents to a study by online course provider Udemy said they get more done and are more productive when workplace distractions are reduced. And yes, this includes social media.

Record your energy level as high, medium, or low every couple of hours during the day.  While doing so, make sure to note when distractions to your workday are highest. Then simply rearrange your workday so you’re performing tasks requiring high concentration when you’re feeling energetic and distractions are low.

Batch Your Tasks

Although being more productive means getting more done in a day, performing several tasks at once (multi-tasking) could actually hinder your memory and reduce your productivity. According to recent findings from the Stanford Memory Laboratory, you may boost your productivity by scheduling your time to avoid multi-tasking and incorporate batching, performing similar tasks together in one time block.

Consider your typical weekly or monthly tasks and how they could be batched.

Template, Replicate and Automate

To maximize the impact of batching on productivity, create a template to cut the time required to perform each batching activity. For example, filling in a report template may save time versus creating one from scratch. You may be able to replicate the time savings by using the outline template as a base for other similar activities, such as writing case studies or white papers.

Today’s business world is full of repetitive tasks. Automating those tasks can boost productivity, helping you get more done in a shorter time. According to a 2017 study, 69 percent of surveyed workers say that automation’s biggest benefit is in reducing time spent on repetitive tasks. Study your own repetitive tasks, such as data entry, creating reports, and even paying bills. Look for opportunities to use technology to automate those tasks, such as setting up recurring bill payments through online banking. The more you’re able to automate, the less chance you have of wasting time.

Delegate or Dump

What are you doing that someone else could do instead? And what are you doing that could be scrapped entirely?

When you delegate important tasks to other team members, you free up time to tackle other tasks, increasing your personal productivity and earnings. In a Harvard study of law firms which practice delegating routine work to associate lawyers, partners earned between 20-to-50 percent more than they would have without delegating the work. These partners can take on more clients and produce higher quality work on difficult cases without the distraction of the more routine cases.

Review your most recent “To-Do” lists and identify at least three activities that can be delegated or dumped. Then allocate the time saved for growing your business, pursuing new clients, or developing new product lines.

Making Her Mark – Influential Women Business Owners: Megy Karydes

Launching Your Own Business as a Working Mom

As the managing director of marketing at Chicago’ massive Merchandise Mart, Megy Karydes knew she wanted a change. She spent almost every month traveling, overseeing some of the biggest

Megy Karydes in Cyprus, August 2018

trade shows in the world.

“I felt like I was at the point where, I’d done everything I needed to do,” she says. “It didn’t feel challenging anymore.”

With two children under the age of two, Karydes left her job and launched her own business. Karydes Consulting is a C-corporation in Chicago. It offers marketing, communications, public relations, and media relations services to corporate and nonprofit companies.

At the same time, she also launched her career as a journalist. Learning how to balance being a journalist, a marketing and public relations consultant and a mom is a lot. Here’s how Megy does it.

Making the transition

Start by identifying your audience and your unique selling proposition to let potential clients know what you can offer based on the kind of work you want, Karydes says. When she decided to start her own company, the first thing she did was email her entire network of contacts to let them know.

“As soon as I sent out that email letting people know what I was doing, I immediately signed two clients.”

Over the past decade, Karydes’ business has grown to include major clients such as The Morton Arboretum, Union of Concerned Scientists, Heartland Alliance, McCormick & Company spice, and Meredith Corporation.

Vetting potential clients

Her advice to new business owners: hone in on both the type of clients you want and don’t want. It’s important to interview potential clients to make sure they are a good fit for you.  Just as much as the other way around.

Although Karydes wanted to focus much of her work on nonprofits, many didn’t have a large enough budget to make some potential clients a good fit. To ensure business viability while fulfilling her need to work with nonprofits, Karydes began focusing only on mid-to-large organizations with budgets of a million dollars or more.

“It’s important to me to determine that early on,” she says. “I don’t want to fall into the trap of just accepting a client and find out when we begin working together that we’re not seeing eye to eye.”

To vet potential clients, Karydes starts by asking “What are you trying to achieve by trying to hire someone like me?”.  To do her job right in media and public relations, Karydes needs access to sources, imagery, B-roll video and the ability to quickly get in touch with an executive if a reporter wants to do an interview.

If Karydes feels like she has the expertise to work and help a potential client achieve their goals, she then asks the following questions:

  • How available will you be for me?
  • How do you prefer to be contacted?
  • Are you prepared to provide me with the necessary material in order to do my job?

“These questions are so basic.  But when you ask the questions, it puts the onus on them to understand that I can only do my job as well as I can if I get what I need from them,” she says. “They almost forget that. They almost feel like if they hire someone like me, they can just hand over everything to me and wash their hands from having to do any more work. That’s never the case. We need to be a team for this to work.”

“If executives are difficult to reach, because they are constantly traveling or don’t check their phones, it makes it a lot harder for me to do my job,” Karydes says. “That’s a problem. If I have a reporter who needs to do an interview, thenI’ve lost that opportunity and potentially alienated that reporter.”

Managing motherhood

Megy and her son, Alex.

Karydes’ son Alex, who is now 12, was only 10 months old when she started her own business. Her daughter, Chloe, who is now 14, was less than 2 years old.

Running her own business has given Karydes the flexibility to work the type of hours she wants and still be available for her children.

“I was fortunate that my mother was able to take care of my kids full time while I worked. I realize that is not something that’s common, but it was so integral for me,” she says.

Her advice: Since finding affordable (and safe) daycare can be difficult and time consuming, it’s important to do it early on.

“It’s easier said than done, because our country doesn’t necessarily value that kind of role,” Karydes says. Because of this, she suggests involving your children in your work when possible. For Karydes, that meant bringing her children, even when they were babies and toddlers on business trips. She did this especially when she was writing travel stories.

“For the longest time they didn’t even know about kids menus,” she says. “We went to so many restaurants we just let them try the food from our plates. They couldn’t read the menu so they didn’t even know kids’ meals were even an option which has made them become much more adventurous eaters.”

More importantly, it’s helped open her children to different cultures and other ways of life. Even if it’s just in another neighborhood in Chicago.

“It’s a good reminder for them that they don’t live in a bubble,” she says. “But they’re part of a bigger community.”

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.

How Retailers Can Perfect an Omnichannel Commerce Strategy

Retail has undergone a substantial makeover in the last decade as more Americans shop online. Staying competitive in the e-commerce era is a challenge.  However, it’s one many retailers are adapting to by focusing on an omnichannel approach.

Omni channel retail, or cross-channel retail, aims to create a unified, multi channel experience for shoppers by expanding a brand’s presence beyond a brick-and-mortar store and traditional marketing tactics. It includes selling and other touch points through e-commerce sites, social media, mobile devices, SMS messages and email.  The combination of these allows business owners to create a recognizable digital footprint and a seamless experience for your customers.

Ninety percent of retailers have an omnichannel strategy in place — but they’re not necessarily realizing its full potential. These tips can help you kick your omnichannel efforts into high gear.

Go Where Your Customers Are

Before you can get serious about cross-channel selling, you first have to understand where your customers are spending their time. That includes the websites, search engines, mobile applications and social media channels they frequent.

One way to find out where your customers are online is by using Google Analytics to break down from where the traffic to your website is coming. You can also ask your in-store shoppers to fill out a quick survey online detailing their digital habits, as well as sending out the same survey to your email list subscribers.

Once you know where your customers are most often, you can focus your omnichannel strategy on those channels that have the most potential to generate new sales. For example, you may not want to waste time on a Twitter marketing push if most of your customers hang out on Facebook.

Check Your Tech

Having the right technology in place can make it easier to promote an omnichannel strategy. If your store doesn’t use a customer relationship management (CRM) system, that might be a wise investment for 2019.

A CRM allows you to collect customer data, but perhaps more importantly, it can help you transition from one sales channel to another smoothly, creating a seamless shopping experience. For example, you could use a CRM to analyze customer behavior to create individualized, automated marketing campaigns based on customer preferences, regardless of where they prefer to shop.

Other omnichannel tech solutions you may want to consider include point of sale systems that integrate automatically with e-commerce sites, cloud-based inventory management tools, and monitoring tools that can help you pinpoint what’s working with your online storefront or what’s not.

Not Sure How to Get Started?

As with pretty much everything in life, a simple way to get started is to learn by watching others. Hubspot provides some great examples of brands with an excellent omni channel customer experience.  Some of these examples include brilliant strategies from Disney, Virgin Atlantic, Bank of America, Starbucks and Chipotle.

Emarsys also provides some great examples through Sephora, Crate and Barrel and Walgreens. While these large brands may have a bigger budget and more resources than you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t use them a prime source for inspiration.

You can also check out research reports published by companies that focus on existing and future trends. For example, Big Commerce has published the The Global Omni-Channel Consumer Shopping Research Report which provides insights into:

  • How Americans shop across an omni-channel environment, including how much they spend and what they buy.
  • How generations shop as compared to each other, including the multiple channels they each you, which payment options/technologies they prefer.
  • Insights on how to increase conversion rates on all of the channels that make up your omnichannel experience.
  • The things that motivate your audience to purchase.

All of this information can help guide you in enhancing your onmichannel strategy and ultimately increase your customer engagement and improve the user experience for your clients.

Make It Simple

Omnichannel shouldn’t be overly complicated. Ideally, you want to make it as easy as possible for your customers to shop either in-store or online.  You also want to ensure that slong with athat ease, you are still giving them a personalized experience. And make it so they keep coming back. These relatively small updates to your existing sales strategy could make a difference in your retail success.

Making Her Mark – Influential Women Business Owners: Michelle Mekky

How I Built My Own Business After Cancer

“I don’t think I would have ever had the courage to start my own business, if I didn’t have cancer,” says Michelle Mekky, the CEO and founder of Mekky Media Relations.

Credit: Michelle Mekky

Michelle Mekky dreamed of owning her own business, but the financial risk always felt too great. For years, she’d held senior positions at various public relations firms. She was a loyal employee, she says, who worked late nights and weekends, running international business campaigns.

She’d been working 80-hour weeks, raising two kids, and putting off her annual exams. When she finally went to the doctor, she was told they’d found something, possibly a fibroid mass.

“But I was told it was probably nothing,” Mekky says.  But after seeing an oncologist at the University of Chicago, Mekky was told there was only a 10 percent chance the growth was benign.

Mekky underwent a seven-hour surgery and awoke to learn she had ovarian cancer and a full hysterectomy. “It was such a traumatic experience for me, but it was the turning point. I didn’t immediately start a new business. But it gradually led me to wake up that I had to take more control over my life and go down a new path.”

After returning to work, she switched agencies in the hopes of finding a better work-life balance. In less than a year and a half later, she was laid off from her new position.

“I went home and looked at my family,” Mekky says. “I don’t know which was harder, recovering from cancer, or being told that I just lost my job and having to decide what am I going to do next.”

Life After Cancer

For the next seven days, Mekky’s husband would ask her, “Did you think of a name for your business?”

“Finally I said maybe just maybe I need to do this.”

She went to see a mentor to figure out why, with over 20 years of experience in the business, she felt tentative. Mekky knew she had connections within the industry and could achieve great things. Her mentor asked a simple question: “What’s holding you back?” Then Mekky’s mentor wrote her a check for $10,000, as a loan, and told Mekky to start her business.

“I thought, if she believes in me this much, I’d better go find a bank and start a business account,” Mekky says. “It was the birth of Mekky Media.”

Building Her Business


Mekky used a lean canvas model to reflect on her unique value proposition and how she could provide solutions to client problems she was seeing. She created an S corporation and hired what she says was the key to starting her business: a great accountant and attorney.

Mekky did competitive research on what other people in the industry were saying about themselves.  From there she had to figure out how she could stand out in a crowded field of agencies and consultants. She knew from years in the industry that her personal attention and creative storytelling made her stand out.

“I quickly realized people hire people,” Mekky says. “They don’t necessarily hire a business. It’s the human behind the business that people are hiring.”

It led to 800 percent growth in her business in two years, she says.  This growth netted an invitation to join Forbes Agency Council, a well-known organization of business owners and executives of advertising, creative, public and media relations agencies.

Mekky soon began netting clients such as Abt Electronics, nonprofits like Susan G. Komen Chicago and GiGi’s Playhouse, as well as companies and individuals in the hospitality, fitness and financial service industries.

In November 2018, Mekky was awarded the 2018 Stevie Award for Women in Business with a bronze medal for Entrepreneur of the Year.

“I’ve always had the entrepreneurial bug in me, but I always felt too much obligation that I had to support my family, pay the bills and this was too risky. Having cancer forced me to do something outside of my comfort zone and now I’m also able to take care of myself and create the environment I’ve always wanted to create.”

Michelle Mekky Accepts her Stevie Award

Editor’s Note: Michelle’s story is one of a four-part series celebrating women business owners throughout the month of March.  Take a look at these other inspiring stories in the series: Launching Your Own Business as a Working Mom.

Getting Over the Entrepreneur Blues

If you were asked to choose a “theme song” for running a business, Elton John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” might not be the first thing to come to mind. A recent study in the Journal of Small Business Economics shows that entrepreneurs suffer much higher levels of depression and other psychological issues than the general population.

“The fact of the matter is this: if you’re driven, an entrepreneur, a type-A personality, or a hundred other things, mood swings are part of your genetic hardwiring,” says Tim Ferris angel investor and best-selling author on his Tim Ferris Show blog. “It’s a blessing and a curse.”

While this issue may be more commonplace than people talk about, the topic shouldn’t be swept under the table.

There are ways to deal with the entrepreneur blues.

  1. Recognize the Symptoms. Depression has many masks; it causes some people to become withdrawn and some to explode in rage. Career coach Aditya Sisodiasays depressed entrepreneurs often have trouble expressing their thoughts and feelings; become irritating and frustrated; and can’t align employees’ interests with their company objectives.
  2. Create a Restorative Niche. Jordana Valencia, a startup consultant writing in the Harvard Business Review, says entrepreneurs sometimes can’t avoid working day and night, and handling unpleasant tasks. To offset that, she recommends they de-stress by using a “restorative niche”.  For example, she says “introverted founders can unwind from their networking activities and combat stress by scheduling daily ‘quiet time”.  During this time, they can indulge in complete silence and isolation. The exact type of self-compassion someone needs is different for everyone; the key is to find ways and time to be nice to yourself.
  3. Check In With Yourself. A growing number of smart phone apps are available that may help track your feelings day-to-day, and suggest strategies to boost your mood. What’s Up can help you stop those nagging internal monologues. CBT Thought Record Diary documents negative emotions, so you can identify and address debilitating patterns.
  4. Tap Your Network. A strong network of friends and family can help battle the blues, but if these don’t seem to make a difference, it may be worth considering calling in a professional. Don’t let the common entrepreneur credo, “lack of time” be your excuse. Specialists are even available through video and phone chats.

Taking care of your mental health is taking care of your business. So don’t leave entrepreneurial blues in the closet — bringing it in the open is the first step to dealing with it.

Should I Use Micro-Influencers to Market My Business

By definition, micro-influencers are not celebrities and are not known by the masses. In fact, assuming their niche following is your target audience, their limited reach is what makes their endorsement of your brand valuable. Done correctly, collaboration with micro-influencers may help you establish brand trust and awareness –and it all takes place by proxy.

Here’s a closer look at how to identify potential micro-influencers in your industry, and key considerations if you want to add them to your marketing toolbox.

What is a Micro-Influencer?

Micro-influencers are niche opinion-creators and thought leaders who are respected, trusted, engaged and connected within a very specific audience. Typically, these connections are based on social media and online engagement, but they can have valuable offline relationships, too.

Before there was the Internet or social media, a micro-influencer was the people you’d see in person every day.  A micro-influence may have been the girl in high school whose fashion others wanted to emulate.  Or it could have been the class president who had a knack for turning the student body into fans of a band before they are widely known. The fact that the micro-influencer is perceived as a “normal person” whom others are drawn to and aspire to be like is what makes their opinions valuable.

In digital terms, online audiences perceive a micro-influencer as credible, trusty-worthy and inspiring. The micro-influencer isn’t “off limits” or a celebrity. Collaborating with micro-influencers who are connected with the audiences you want to reach can be a fast-path to building brand awareness.  It is also a great way to build trust for your business.

Why Micro-Influencer Recommendations Matter

The number of social media followers or online subscribers is far less than important than the level of trust and engagement they’ve built with your target audience. Micro-influencers typically have between 1,000 and 50,000 social media followers; a micro-influencer who has considerably more followers may be perceived as less credible by the people you want to reach, according to Entrepreneur magazine.

In a study conducted by Wharton School, marketing professor Dr. Jonah Berger and the Keller Fay Group, 82% of respondents surveyed said they were highly likely to follow the recommendation of a micro-influencer. In the same study, 94% of the respondents said they perceived a micro-influencer as credible and believable.

Kleiner Perkins Internet Trends 2018 report revealed that 55% of respondents surveyed said they discover products that they eventually buy on social media. Of those, 78% saw the product on Facebook, and 59% originally saw products they bought on Pinterest and/or Instagram. Your target audience will determine which specific social media networks could prove most beneficial to your micro-influencer campaigns.

How to Find Micro-Influencers for Your Business

Consider people you currently know.

Do you have loyal customers who leave you glowing reviews, or have a tendency to refer you to others? An employee who has referred several other quality recruits, or posts accolades about your business and how much they enjoy working at it? Do you have an industry colleague who often shares or “likes” what you publish online? All may be potential micro-influencers who can help further your brand awareness.

Search online and on social media by a keyword or topic.

Identify five or more terms, keywords, phrases or buzzwords that are topical and relevant to your industry, and/or the products and services you offer. Type each into the search fields of various social media channels and search engines to see what results. A person who regularly shares information or perspectives on the topic might be a micro-influencer connected to your target market.

Identify goals and possible compensation.

Establish your specific goals to determine fair compensation to offer a potential influencer. You may want to compare to what you’d spend on a more traditional marketing tactic to reach the same goal. For example, if you’d invest $20,000 for a targeted direct mail piece intended to gain 500 new customers, offering several micro-influencers connected with your target audience a few hundred dollars to write a series of social media posts might reach the same audience for much less. The average paid Instagram post for a micro-influencer related to modeling, pets and fitness cost $306-$434 each, while lifestyle posts cost $172 on average, according to a recent analysis by

Allow creative freedom.

Within reason, trust a chosen micro-influencer to know best how to connect with their followers. Posts that are authentic to each micro-influencer’s unique brand and voice often can be the most effective. The post’s imagery and text should support your brand’s values but convey a sense of authenticity. Micro-influencers in the U.S. are required to disclose that the relationship is a paid sponsorship; however, it should not feel like an ad

Invest in consistency.

​Like any form of marketing, repetition may be required before a micro-influencer’s message resonates with the audience. Whether you use micro-influencers on an ongoing basis, for a limited period of time, invest in more than one engagement to increase the chances that your message moves your target audience to learn more about your business.​

How Can I Use Live Video In My Marketing?

If Your Marketing is DOA, Consider Live Video

Every Thursday at 10 a.m., creatives at SociallyIn, a Birmingham social media firm, sit down over cereal to discuss the most important developments in their industry. Oh, and sell their services.

These discussions are broadcast live on Facebook. SociallyIn is one of a growing number of small businesses that see the benefits of live video: 59% of people prefer watching live videos online over a pre-recorded one, and they’ll devote three times more time to them.

“The authentic and ephemeral nature of live videos seems to make them especially attractive and meaningful to social media users,” explains marketer Aleh Barysevich. “Live videos increase the perceived trustworthiness and relevance of a brand.”

New Products, New Impact

Live videos can be employed for many purposes, including announcing new staff members, showing how to use your product, and introducing new goods and services. They can be used to provide exclusive content and discount codes.

For example, Chelsea Serra-Wallace, who owns Annie & Oliver children’s boutique in Midland, Michigan, uses live videos on Facebook and Instagram the night before Black Friday to announce sale items. The timeliness ensures that she will still have the goods in stock.

Best of all, live videos aren’t exacting. Generally, the only equipment you need is a smartphone, adequate lighting, and a quiet space with a good Internet connection. “The content doesn’t depend on a professional camera crew or even an expensive venue,” said marketer Jason Unrau. “And while you can pay to boost your posts after the fact, Facebook and Instagram do the work for you by featuring live videos higher up in their feeds.” In addition, social media platforms, such as youtube live and facebook live make it simple by a place to host your live video content.

Here are four ways to make your live video stand out:

Pick Your Point. A live video should have a strong focus. “One video, one big point,” said Kathy Klotz-Guest, author of “Stop Boring Me!: How to Create Kick-Ass Marketing.”

“Be really clear on who your audience is, what the need, and who you are. Treat it like a show – not a collection of videos.”

Test Your Equipment. Just as you want to work out your material in advance, check that your equipment is functioning properly. Run a full test, paying particular attention to lighting and sound — which can often be problematic for first-time streamers.

Consider Captions. YouTube allows content creators to add real-time captions to their live videos. You can even automatically generate captions with the platform’s live automatic speech recognition technology. This can be a great asset to viewers who are hard-of-hearing, as well as the many people who watch videos with the mute button on.

Promote the event. Don’t just throw up a live stream, hoping an audience will appear. SociallyIn touts their weekly meeting in Facebook posts, Instagram posts, and Instagram stories.

Re-purpose your videos. Once your live event has passed, re-use your video in other marketing campaigns to further engage with your audience. You can reference them in blog posts, as part of live q&a sessions, to provide a sneak peek to other upcoming events and as paid social media ads.

If you feel customers aren’t responding to your current marketing efforts, consider adding live videos to your content marketing mix.

Inspiring Black Business Owners: Maya-Camille Broussard, Founder of Justice of the Pies

How to Bake in Success: Kickstart Your Company & Give Others a Second Chance

After Maya-Camille Broussard’s father died from a brain tumor, she wanted to do something to honor his legacy as a Chicago criminal defense attorney who believed everyone deserved a second chance.

Credit: Caroline Pest

Broussard’s father, Stephen, had grown up in Chicago’s now defunct housing projects on the city’s west side. Many of his clients came from a similar background and struggled to navigate the legal system.

When he wasn’t in the courtroom, Broussard’s father, who fondly referred to himself as “the pie master,” loved baking (and eating) anything with a crust.

Broussard’s cousin suggested creating a foundation that involved baking pies, but at the time Broussard was just days away from the 2009 grand opening of her first business, Three Peas Art Lounge, an art gallery with a bar in Chicago’s trendy South Loop.

She shelved the idea for few years but continued to grow her small business brand as an arts consultant and designer through her The MCB Project.

About a year after massive flooding forced Three Peas Art Lounge to close in 2011, Broussard began pondering her next move. Broussard began to dream about how to honor her father by combining baking with a social justice.

Raising Capital Through Crowdfunding

As a seasoned business owner, Broussard knew she was going to need funding. She’d already invested her savings into her previous entrepreneurial venture.

She decided to raise capital through crowdfunding.

Credit: Caroline Pest

“It was a great way for me to start fresh into my new venture,” says Broussard who has a bachelor’s of fine arts from Howard University and a masters of arts from Northwestern University. “I learned majority of my lessons with my previous business. I came into Justice of the Pies seasoned as a business owner and ready to go.”

With her crowdfunding campaign, she launched Justice of the Pies, a Chicago-based bakery that serves sweet and savory pies and quiches and have been sold at farmer’s markets, local grocery stores and coffee shops.

To embody her father’s mantra that everyone deserves a second chance, she decided to hire people, “Who have faced significant difficulties and barriers in gaining employment” including workers who have a criminal background, lost their jobs and were living in a homeless shelter or who needed job training.

She currently has two employees, and partners with Chicago Catholic Charities and its summer youth program to provide employment and mentorship for at-risk children who reside in low-income housing. She’s also partnered with Cabrini Green Legal Aid, with a pie drive to help raise funds for the organization that provides no-cost legal assistance to low-income Chicagoans.

With the funds she raised, she wanted to pay for a shared kitchen license, to purchase liability insurance and train staff so they could receive sanitation certifications.

To entice funders, Broussard got creative with her rewards and used memorable taglines such as “Lovers ought to stick to pies” for heart-shaped stickers with her logo for pledges of $45 or more, and invitations to the “Black pie affair” grand opening for pledges of $500 or more.

Within days, 67 backers had pledged $7,811, including a $2,000 pledge from a woman she didn’t know.

“I was shocked,” Broussard says. “I would drive for about an hour and a half to hand deliver her rewards for being a backer. After the second or third time, she told me ‘You know, you don’t have to keep coming out here. Just keep me updated with what you’re doing with your business. I just want to support you.'”

Stunned, Broussard was amazed at this random act of kindness that helped her quickly scale her business.

“She truly gave from her heart and expected nothing in return,” says Broussard, who offered handwritten thank you notes, postcards, t-shirts, miniature pies and quiches, pie making classes and even a namesake “pie of the month” depending on the level of donations. “She didn’t even expect the rewards that were rightfully due to her as part of her pledge.”

Finding Distribution Partners

“I learned majority of my lessons with my previous business. I came into Justice of the Pies seasoned as a business owner and ready to go,” Broussard says. “The best way to learn is to be in the moment.”

Credit: Caroline Pest

With unique names like Sweet Basil Key Lime Pie, Chili Roasted Sweet Potato and Goat Cheese Quiche, Heirloom Tomato Tart and Blue Cheese Praline Pear Pie, Broussard began branding her pies and quiches trying to connect with grocery stores, coffee shops and other vendors who might be interested in her baked goods.

At the same time, she started selling her baked goods at various street fairs. That’s when, Broussard says, local coffee shops began asking if they could carry her baked goods with the stipulation she would make something exclusive for their stores. She now sells at Chicago’s downtown Daley Plaza Farmers Market and at Build Coffee in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood.

“Partnerships come in many different forms and can come about in various ways,” says Broussard who currently sells her baked goods through catering orders, pre-orders and pick-ups instead of a traditional bakery storefront.

Her advice to other business owners, “The best way to learn is to be in the moment, Broussard says. “And don’t tell others what you’ve got planned until it’s solid. Keep your good news close to the vest until everything is nearly done.”


Let Maya-Camille inspire you in her TED talk on making everyday about your passion.

Editor’s Note: Maya-Camille’s story is one of a six-part series celebrating black small business owners throughout the month of February.  Check out the other inspiring stories in the series: Turning Shakespeare into Rap into Revenue, From Mechanical Engineering to Marketing Consultancy – Building Businesses Through Analytics,  Pioneering Metrics of Diversity and Inclusion  and Overcoming a Hurricane of a Problem.


Inspiring Black Business Owners: Vershawn Sanders-Ward, Founder of The Red Clay Dance Company

How to Create a Nonprofit Backed By Corporate Sponsors

Vershawn Sanders-Ward has always loved dancing, with its ability to transcend cultures and tell stories with the power of movement. So after years of hard work and networking, she earned the financial backing of major corporate sponsors and was able to create Red Clay Dance Company, a nonprofit company in Chicago that focuses on race and gender issues.

Here’s how Sanders-Ward turned her vision into a reality.

Ownership as an Economic Driver

As a senior at Columbia College Chicago, Sanders-Ward had a chance to meet Germaine Acogny, the artistic director of L’ecole des Sables, a dance school in Senegal that teaches dancers the traditional and contemporary styles of African dance. Sanders-Ward was selected as one of 50 dancers to spend several months at L’ecole des Sables.

“It’s more of a compound,” says Sanders-Ward, a native of Chicago who spent her summers in Mobile, Alabama where her parents grew up, playing in the red clay dirt. “Germaine has two dance spaces, but there’s housing, a kitchen and it’s on a very large plot of land. Her art and dance making have really become an economic driver for that village. I wanted to see if it was something that I could replicate in my work, in my community in Chicago.”

Seeing Africans in a position of power also had a profound impact on Sanders-Ward while she was in Senegal.

“Being around people who looked like me on a daily basis, without many white faces was a very strange experience,” she says. “To go to the store, the bakery or restaurant and see the store owners who were black people that looked like me, who were running most of the businesses was jarring but very exciting and affirming. It felt like I was returning home.”

Launching a Nonprofit

A year after going to Africa, Sanders-Ward founded the Red Clay Dance Company and started growing it from a company-of-one to a team of talented dancers.

While hosting educational dance programming at the Gary Comer Youth Center on Chicago’s South Side, Red Clay Dance Company caught the attention of a funder who nominated Sanders-Ward for a grant via The Chicago Community Trust’s Young Leaders Fund in 2012.

“It gave some validity to our work,” says Sanders-Ward.

Sanders-Ward went to potential funders with a plan of where she wanted to be, and her proposed steps to get her company there and the areas she needed financial support to make it happen. After her first round of grant funding, Sanders-Ward realized she needed to get more meticulous about her bookkeeping.

“Even if you’re only managing $20,000 budget, know exactly where that $20,000 was spent,” she says. “As an artist that wasn’t my strong suit.”

Red Clay now has the corporate backing of the MacArthur Foundation, Polk Brothers Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Gaylord & Dorthy Donnelley Foundation, Illinois Arts Council, Driehaus Foundation, Art Works, The Dance Center, Springboard Foundation and The Chicago Community Trust. “That not only put us on The Chicago Community Trust’s radar but other funders’ radars, and it grew from there.”

Business Basics

Although Sanders-Ward didn’t start with a business plan, she created a lean strategic map of her main organizational goals, and how she intended to reach those goals. She also leaned on her brother who does business development.

Sanders-Ward says she wishes she would have initially partnered with another organization to help manage business development hurdles as she grew her company. “In retrospect, I wish I had let someone else handle the financial reporting for a little bit — while I was a new artist in the field, trying to establish my name,” Sanders-Ward says. That struggle to find role models and equality is one of the reasons Red Clay Dance Company emphasizes dance education and community engagement in underserved communities.

“It’s been challenging to find mentors, to find women, black women who have a business and have done this,” says Sanders-Ward. “We want people to reflect on their own responsibility both individually and collectively,” she says. “I want people to ask, ‘What’s my role? Is there anything I can do to change that, or am I just sitting by floating through life?’ It’s a call-to-action. It’s why I started Red Clay Dance Company, to provide a space for my art making and education.”

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