Kind Apparel: How This Business Owner is Overcoming Challenges With a Fast-Growing Business

One of the biggest business challenges is having a business that is growing “too fast,” but rapid growth can bring a surprising level of complexity. Sounds silly, right? Mallory Ottariano, the founder and CEO of Kind Apparel, a women’s adventure clothing company, makes unique, colorful, versatile outdoor wear dedicated to “gals who get after it.”

In the past 3 years, Kind Apparel has doubled year-over-year in organic growth. Running a fast-growing business presented Mallory with some new challenges and learning experiences along the way.

Fortunately, Mallory overcomes the challenges of growing and scaling production for her business in great strides. She has an open-minded approach to management and is learning as she goes. They demonstrate the grit, hustle, smarts and creativity that the customers display when they’re out hiking, climbing and skiing.

Mallory Ottariano and Kind Apparel’s story offers several key insights and lessons on overcoming business challenges.

Growing Without Traditional Capital

Many new businesses find it difficult qualifying for small business loans from traditional lenders. Even if your business has strong revenue and growth, banks might be reluctant to lend you money. They might think you don’t fit into their conventional loan application guidelines.

“As a young company with few assets aside from inventory, we’re not attractive to banks, although we have impressive revenues,” Mallory Ottariano said. “I have been rejected for lines of credit and loans by eight banks, and the biggest reasons for rejection are that I don’t have enough capital to put up against the loan, that our fast growth is scary to them, and that funding retail and inventory is scary to them. Every single bank said ‘your revenues are good, but it’s just too risky.'”

Another challenge for Mallory’s business is that the company is on a long buying cycle. It takes Kind Apparel a long time to produce their high-quality specialty clothing. Banks typically want to see a shorter accounts receivable cycle.

“We’re on a 9-month buying cycle with our wholesale accounts, so we collect orders, produce and deliver well before we’ll ever get paid,” Mallory said. “For this fall, we have more orders on the books than we’ve ever had, which means more capital needed to manufacture the products. But the banks feel this is too far out. They want to see accounts receivable of 30-60 days, which just isn’t possible for us because it takes up to 6 months to make our products.”

Developing Personal Relationships

Mallory has adapted by developing a personal relationship with a nearby bank. “I have a small line of credit that I’ve been able to make a little less small through good relationships with the bank who happen to own the building our office is in,” Mallory said.

“Because we’re unable to get the amount of capital we need from banks, we have had to scale back on our wholesale goals and sell more direct-to-consumer where we have less lead times,” Mallory said. “This has actually been a really exciting thing for us, because we’re able to offer smaller, regular product releases which keep our customers engaged and excited about what’s next.”

The lesson: sometimes a business challenge can be the opportunity you need to change your business model.

Adapting to Problems With Vendors

The quality of your product and the reputation of your business often depends on the quality of your vendors. If one of your vendors fails to deliver, that can leave your business in a bad situation.

Mallory Ottariano knows how challenging it is to find the right long-term factory partners. One of her factory partners didn’t deliver on quality when she needed it most.

“It’s been incredibly hard to find long-term factory partners that can scale with us and still maintain quality,” Mallory said. “Last year, in the middle of our production season, we had to terminate our factory because we were seeing major quality issues and late deliveries. We had seams popping and unraveling, legs that were different lengths, and overall messiness.”

Kind Apparel’s brand is based on being a reliable supplier of durable outdoor clothing, and they charge a premium price. The company cannot accept bad production from a factory.

Protect Your Brand’s Reputation

“Our price point is fairly high, around $100 for a pair of leggings, and the quality of the product we were getting didn’t merit this price tag,” Mallory said. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to cut ties with a partner. Mallory had to make a tough decision.

“We were scaling so quickly, and right at the beginning of scaling was when this factory’s quality really started to slip,” Mallory said. “I only saw it getting worse with more volume, and I thought the best option was to terminate and deal with timeline recovery now, as opposed to when our volume gets to three times this size.”

“It was an absolute nightmare,” Mallory said. “We had to literally pack thousands of half-sewn pieces of clothing onto pallets to ship to a new factory that unpacked and picked up where the previous factory had left off. It resulted in huge delays and losing wholesale accounts.”

The lesson: protect your company’s reputation. Prepare to make a change – even if you have to incur added costs.

Embracing Curiosity and Unconventional Thinking

People from all kinds of career and education backgrounds can be successful as entrepreneurs. Mallory believes that her unconventional background has helped her to think creatively in building her business. “Even though I’m the CEO, I have no formal business education or management experience; in fact, I have an art degree,” Mallory said. “Everything I’ve learned about business has been on-the-job, through trial and error and experimentation.”

“Just try things,” Mallory Ottariano said. “There’s a lot to be learned by making mistakes. If you’re not making mistakes and coming up against walls then you’re not risking enough.”

The lesson: Every business founder has their own life perspectives that they bring to the table. Don’t devalue your own skills and strengths. Keep learning and taking chances along the way.

Learn more about Kind Apparel on their website, or follow them on Instagram.

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Tips for Protecting Cash Flow During COVID-19 Market Disruptions

COVID-19, so far, has had far-reaching impacts on global trade. Your business could be one of the many curious about protecting cash flow during the current COVID-19 market disruption.

U.S.-based small and mid-sized businesses import one-third of all U.S. imports according to census data from 2016. Since exports from areas impacted by the coronavirus are already happening, businesses face a variety of challenges. Lower stock levels, missing components, and top-selling products could be in dwindling supply – all of which decrease cash flow.

If your business stands to endure a slowdown on account of COVID-19, you can still keep operations above water while trade turmoil settles down. Below you’ll find multiple strategies for protecting cash flow, taking an inside-out approach starting with business operations.

Analyze AP/AR

While it’s likely already part of your periodic financial review strategy, now’s the time to take a deep dive into accounting as the first strategy for protecting cash flow. Both accounts receivable (AR) and accounts payable (AP) might be due for a strategy shift. Both can also help bring much-needed cash in-house or keep cash-on-hand for a bit longer than usual.

  • AP: Look for subscription-based vendors and consider suspending service on non-essential office supplies and services. Reach out to vendors and leverage your good payment history to negotiate early pay discounts or extended due dates for a defined period of time.
  • AR: Extend early pay discounts to customers with timely payment histories. For past due receivables, consider establishing payment plans or discounting invoices to bring that cash on board.

Keep in mind that your customers and vendors might also be experiencing effects from the COVID-19 market disruptions. The strategies above can help keep cash flow steady and prevent the need to reduce headcount. You might also find that you build new goodwill with those on the other end of your AP/AR efforts, as they’re likely looking for cost-saving and improved cash flow measures right now as well.

Explore Bridge Funding

While COVID-19 won’t be around forever, just how long it will be around for remains unknown. That’s why today is an ideal time to explore bridge funding options as a strategy for protecting cash flow.

On-demand funding tools like a business line of credit can help you tap funds as needed and fill in cash flow gaps. You can also explore purchase order financing if you need to switch-up suppliers during lean cash flow times.

More conventional bridge funding solutions like business loans can help fund operations for the long-haul. Many loans offer flexible terms where payment frequency adjusts to meet your cash flow, which could be advantageous in the COVID-19 business environment.

Invite Solutions to Protect Your Cash Flow

Transparency is key during turbulent business times. That’s why it’s critical to bring your entire team up to speed on how it’s anticipated that COVID-19 will impact the business. Once your team is up to speed, invite them to contribute to conversations surrounding protecting cash flow.

For many small and mid-sized businesses, departments/employees can get unintentionally siloed. There’s reduced visibility to how other departments/employees manage day-to-day operations. Management might also have reduced visibility to how each department/employee could help keep operations going during periods of reduced sales or diminished supply.

Create a call for ideas. Encourage employees to cross-collaborate on solutions. Explore ways to dig deeper into your existing customer base versus a focus on new customer acquisition.

A commitment to transparency and collaboration can help surface efforts that could incrementally improve your cash flow. You also might discover a greater sense of team ownership in the company’s day-to-day operations and new initiatives that will boost business well beyond the days of COVID-19.

You now have three strategies for protecting cash flow during the COVID-19 market disruption, all originating from inside your company. The best part about all of these strategies is that they’re not just for times where a health concern is complicating your supply chain. Rather, they’re enduring strategies that all businesses can use year-round to keep operations lean. You could maintain a well-cultivated talent roster and deepen employee participation in the company’s short- and long-term goals.

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Coronavirus (COVID-19): What Small Business Owners Need to Know

It’s nearly impossible to tune into the news these days without hearing a mention of coronavirus. Also known as COVID-19, this disease outbreak is wreaking havoc across the globe. You might be wondering what you most need to know about the outbreak as a small business owner.

This article will get you quickly up to speed on COVID-19. Learn what it is; how it’s transmitted. Read about the ways the virus could impact your business–and where to go for timely and reliable information.

What is coronavirus (COVID-19) and how is it transmitted?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the current coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak began in China in 2019. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that occur in humans and animals alike. The current strain, however, hasn’t been seen before. There is no current vaccine available, and as it’s a virus, antibiotics aren’t effective in treating someone infected with COVID-19. Current antiviral drugs, like those used to manage the flu, are ineffective against COVID-19.

Experts estimate that COVID-19, like the flu, is transmitted by person-to-person contact. The two most common methods of contact are close contact (people within six feet of one another) and through respiratory droplets in the air from sneezing or coughing.

How could coronavirus impact my business?

COVID-19 could impact businesses from two directions: from outside and within.

Outside factors that could affect your daily business operations include:

  • Supply chain: Businesses that rely on overseas manufacturing or component sourcing could experience significant delays that impact fulfillment timelines.
  • Foot traffic: If an outbreak occurs in your city, brick and mortar businesses could see a significant slow in foot traffic, impacting revenue.

The virus could also impact factors within your company, including:

  • Remote work needs: If an outbreak happens locally or within your company, you might need to shift operations so that employees work remotely to prevent the likelihood of disease transmission.
  • Revenue decline: Revenue disruptions from supply chain issues or local outbreaks could impact cash flow, which could impact payroll and create challenges maintaining headcount.

While the above impacts might not have been on your list of goals for 2020, awareness puts you one step ahead. You can be proactive instead of reactive.

What can my business do to protect its customers and employees?

One of the most critical actions that businesses can take at present is to establish a stringent hygiene policy companywide. The tips outlined below might seem like common sense; however, in a fast-paced business world where staffing is sometimes lean to keep costs down, these measures often fall by the wayside.

Here are the most important actions the CDC currently recommends that businesses take:

  • Sick policy: Employees who are sick should stay home to reduce the risk of disease transmission. Sick employees should not return to work until they’ve been fever-free for at least 24 hours.
  • Enforce hygiene etiquette: Employees should wash their hands with soap and water (hot or cold). Hand sanitizer should also be made available, though it is currently in short supply. Make employees aware of cough and sneeze etiquette.
  • Cancel non-essential business travel: Shift to video meetings and remote collaboration methods to avoid exposing employees to potentially infected travelers.
  • Enact environmental cleaning: For SMBs with physical work locations, work with your janitorial service or those assigned to cleaning duties to implement additional sanitation procedures.

Think of ways that your business can play an active role in preventing the transmission of COVID-19. Maintaining a clean workplace and enforcing sick policies can go a long way to protecting your workforce and customers.

Where can I find accurate and timely updates?

Now, you’ll want to keep up-to-date on news about the virus as it comes available. Here’s what you can do to continue informing yourself and staying in-tune with the news.

Where can you turn for trusted information?

First, bookmark the CDC COVID-19 website. This site is a regularly-updated destination for scientifically-verified information on the outbreak and current concerns.

Next, have a look at the World Health Organization’s “mythbusters” page on the outbreak. The information here counters several dubious myths floating around about the virus and can help save you some needless panicking.

Finally, always consider the source of information. Misinformation about the disease is already rampant. The two sites above will have the most up-to-date and accurate information from medical and scientific experts. Your business is hard enough to run each day. You deserve reliable information to help guide you through adverse situations like the current coronavirus.

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6 Essentials Any Small Business Website Needs

In today’s digital landscape, a small business website is one of the most important tools any business owner can have. It’s a place where your audience learns about who you are, what you do, and how you can help them. But what are the essential areas all small business websites should focus on when creating or updating their sites? We asked Katie O’Brien, a website designer and brand strategist, what small business owners should focus on. Here’s what she had to say.

1. A Simple Home Page

You don’t need to do all of the things on your website’s homepage. Focus instead on being clear and concise. O’Brien says, “Visitors should immediately — without scrolling — know exactly what you offer and if it’s for them. This makes the difference between someone landing on your page and immediately clicking the back button to go back to their search results…or sticking around and taking action on your website.”

2. Hours of Operation

When are you open for business? While you might think this is common knowledge, new-to-you customers might not have any clue when you do business. If you own a traditional storefront, this is especially important, but it’s important for remote workers or digital storefronts as well.

3. Testimonials

If you haven’t collected praise from your previous clients or customers, now’s the time. Your prospects want to read recommendations from people who have worked with you.

“The testimonials not only validate your products and services,” says O’Brien, “but they allow potential clients to imagine what it would be like working with you or purchasing from you.”

So, where should you place this praise? O’Brien suggests using them in two different ways. She says, “Testimonials should be strategically placed throughout your website to support the individual goals of each page on your website. You should also have a dedicated place on your website to list out all testimonials.”

4. A Clear List of Services

“Clarity is key with your services page,” says O’Brien. But what does that mean? If you have multiple offers or products, you may have a lot to say. However, there is a way to keep the main page structured. O’Brien says, “If you have multiple offerings consider having a simpler overview on your services page and an individual page for each service.”

“You’ll want to get clear on the action you want your potential clients to take. Should they book a call? Purchase a product? Once the call to action is identified everything should be built out around that.”

5. An About Page About the Both of You

Don’t think that the about page should be about only you and your business. Since this is one of the most viewed pages on any small business website, use it to remind your audience what problem (of theirs) you can solve. For example, a nutritionist might talk about how diet culture creates self-esteem issues, and then go on to talk about how her mission is to teach people to eat healthy in a way that makes them feel good about themselves.

6. Social Media and Contact Information

You want to keep people on your website until they’re ready to follow your calls-to-action, such as booking a call. However, not everyone who visits your small business website is primed to buy — though they may want to keep following you and reach out when they are ready. Here’s where directing them to your social media accounts and having a clear contact page come in handy.

But, O’Brien says, “Social media information and your contact information serve two completely different purposes. Most of the time if someone wants to contact you they have a very specific reason – for instance, a question before they buy. Those who are connecting with you on various social media outlets just want updates from you… some of the time.”

To help those clients wanting to buy, make your contact page easy to navigate to at all times, and keep the copy simple. As for social media, O’Brien suggests placing them in the footer of the small business website.

The key is keeping viewers on your site, until they’re ready to take the steps to move into the direction you’re leading them via your copy and design, not lose them to social media.

This may seem like a lot to do on one small business website, but don’t stress. O’Brien says, “I think a lot of people feel websites are this super complicated formula, but they’re a lot simpler than most think. Clearly state what it is you do or provide and how they can move forward. That should be the primary focus of every website.”

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Black History Month: Marcia Whyte, Founder of GratitudeSpeak

Marcia Whyte understands gratitude; she is grateful for the experiences throughout her life that shaped her to be the person she is today. Marcia is thankful for her husband and 3 wonderful children. She built many relationships and friendships during a lifelong career of various ministerial and sales positions. Marcia is grateful for them.

In 2014, Marcia was working through her 11th year in a well-known sales organization. Here, she received numerous recognitions and awards. Sadly, that year would end quite differently than she expected.

An Unfortunate Wake-Up Call

Several months into the year, Marcia’s husband, James, began experiencing severe health issues that landed him in the hospital. After a barrage of tests, Marcia and her husband received a diagnosis that would turn their world upside down. Her husband was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. It is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

Marcia juggled the obligations of a demanding sales career. She supported her husband in the hospital and listened to recommendations from countless doctors. When she realized she was overwhelmed, she reached out to her supervisor for some grace in upcoming deadlines. Marcia remembers the conversation vividly: “It’s rare that I’m speechless, but he managed to accomplish it when he said, ‘So you want to just slow down your career or put it on hold just because someone in your family got sick?'”

This apathetic response pushed Marcia to make the difficult decision to leave her corporate sales position and put her family first. After all, only God knew what the future would bring.

8 Life-Changing Words

While Marcia knew that the decision to leave her job was the right one, it didn’t make it easy. She struggled with what to do next, but the answer came from a surprising place – her husband. Despite fighting his own battles in the hospital, James encouraged Marcia to go out on her own and pursue a business where she would be teaching others the skills she’d learned from years of building relationships and referrals.

While Marcia was intrigued by the idea, she wasn’t completely convinced. She worried about mounting medical debt and supporting their children, until her husband shared what she refers to as “The 8 Words that Changed My Life.”

Trust Your Gut, Trust the Process, Trust God.

With those words as her motivation, Marcia created GratitudeSpeak. Unfortunately, less than 2 months after starting her business, Marcia lost her husband on September 4, 2014.

The loss of her husband was devastating. But, she used his legacy and encouragement as motivation to pursue GratitudeSpeak full time in early 2015. Marcia shares a core tenet of her business: “I believe that Gratitude – making sure people feel appreciated – is a language all its own. We have medical jargon, we have legalese, we have coding, we have a whole bunch of industry-specific languages – but the universal language of business, not to mention life, should be gratitude.”

The research behind a greater need for gratitude in business relationships is strong. Marcia discovered that 67% of customers will not return to a business because they feel like they don’t matter. Not only does Forbes research confirm this statistic, it also shows that losing customers as a result of poor experiences is costing businesses more than $75 billion a year. Marcia went on to share that “the worst thing a business can do is to make their employees feel unappreciated, especially for the customer-facing employees. They will probably leave, but before they do, they will take it out on your clients and your customers.”

As part of GratitudeSpeak, Marcia incorporates the best parts of herself and her background in both sales and ministry to coach others how to incorporate a culture of gratitude in their businesses. Ultimately, though, Marcia boils it down to one simple idea: “Do unto others as you want them to TELL folks about you. That’s the gospel according to Marcia.”

Thoughts on Black History Month

As a proud, black entrepreneur, Marcia Whyte offers encouragement to others in the spirit of the poem My People by Langston Hughes: “Black stands for Beautiful, Lyrical, Astute, Curious, Knowledgeable. I, my ancestors, and my offspring are all of these things. That’s what makes us so special and worth celebrating every day of every year, not just in February. For any of us to think or act otherwise would diminish the hopes of those whose dreams and accomplishments we stand on the shoulders of. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously. Hopefully, my work shows that.”

Connect with Marcia Whyte on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. You can also get a FREE copy of her best-selling book/brand story, “From Loss to Leadership”, here: bit.ly/GS-SummitGift

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Your Ultimate Guide to Business Loans in Arkansas

Whether you’re looking to run, grow, or secure your own small business, there are a multitude of options for business loans in Arkansas. All you need to know is where to look. And, we’ve done that part for you. In this guide, you’ll find a list of the best small business loans Arkansas has to offer, including small business loan programs, grants, and alternative options for your financial needs.

Here are a few financial institutions, non-profits and government programs for you to look into.

Arvest Bank – Large Bank

Arvest Bank is the largest bank in Arkansas in terms of deposit market share. It has a network of 125 community banks to provide a complete range of financial services to Arkansas small business owners. Arvest offers fixed-rate, term loans to help small businesses cover equipment and technology purchases, vehicle purchases, facility remodels and debt consolidation.

This bank also offers commercial lines of credit to help meet the demands of small businesses, such as short-term cash needs or to purchase inventory. Additionally, Arvest offers real estate loans to refinance or develop a wide range of commercial properties.

Arvest is a Preferred SBA Lender. Small businesses have access to the 7(a) Loan Program, which can be used for general business purposes, and the 504 Loan Program to help cover major fixed asset purchases, such as land and buildings. The SBA Express loan is also available for most business purchases, including working capital lines of credit.

United Bank – Small, Local Bank

For over 40 years, United Bank has been operating in Northwest Arkansas. It has four locations in Fayetteville, Rogers and Springdale. United Bank offers business loans with flexible terms and repayment schedules as well as business lines of credit.

This bank also provides customizable commercial real estate loans to fit the needs of small businesses. Small business loans can help you cover various purchases, including property, inventory and equipment. Additionally, United Bank offers business credit cards.

Arkansas Federal Credit Union – Credit Union

Arkansas Federal Credit Union (AFCU) is the largest of its kind in the state. Their headquarters are in Jacksonsville, Arkansas. It is regulated under the authority of the National Credit Union Administration.

AFCU offers commercial real estate loans to purchase or refinance property. Examples of property include: office buildings, retail buildings and warehouses. Also, they offer commercial real estate construction loans.

For working capital or purchase of working capital equipment, AFCU provides small businesses with commercial and industrial loans. This is also known as C&I. This is a short-term loan and collateral is typically required.

Additionally, AFCU offers revolving lines of credit. This allows small business owners to borrow money at their discretion. This is similar to a credit card, or based on their current cash flow needs.

Arkansas Development Finance Authority – Government Program

Created in 1985, the Arkansas Development Finance Authority (ADFA) is a public body, both politic and corporate. It provides funding for financing affordable housing, business and economic projects and capital improvements for state agencies. They have credit enhancement programs and venture capital programs. These are meant to help small businesses acquire working capital or to support businesses that are emerging, expanding, relocating or restructuring.

ADFA’s Capital Access Program makes funds available to borrowers who might have difficulty acquiring money from conventional bank loans. This program is a lending incentive for working capital loans for various types of industries within the state of Arkansas.
This includes agriculture, manufacturing, wholesale and retail, construction and service. The average processing time for a loan is 3 to 5 days.

ADFA also offers the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program. In conjunction with Levi Strauss Foundation and Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, ADFA provides working loan guaranty capital to minority businesses who need help financing their working capital needs.

In 2014, ADFA formed a partnership with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) that offered the AEDC Minority Business Loan Program with access to ADFA DBE guaranty reserve funds. The purpose of the partnership is to provide additional support to minority-owned, Arkansas businesses.

Arkansas Capital Corporation – Non-Profit Program

Arkansas Capital is a private, non-profit lending corporation and a community development finance company (CDFI) that has several small business loan options to either start or grow an existing business Arkansas. Since 1957, Arkansas Capital and its affiliates have provided flexible financing products of over $1.5 billion in capital through more than 1,300 loans to help meet the needs of small businesses to large scale operations.

This non-profit program offers SBA 504 loan and SBA 7(a) loan products. The SBA 594 loan has a 20-year term for commercial real estate and 10-year term for machinery or equipment. The SBA 7(a) loan has terms up to 25 years for real estate and 5 to 10 year terms for working capital.

Additonally, Arkansas Capital offers conventional loans up to $500,000, and the USDA Business and Industry Loan Guarantee (USDA B&I) product, with loan amounts up to $10 million per borrower to support certain businesses in rural areas.

Top Traditional Lenders for Arkansas Small Business Loans

Here, you’ll find a mix of the traditional banks, local and community banks and credit unions that offer business loans in Arkansas.

Bank of Little Rock

Bank of Little Rock was founded in 1927. It’s committed to meeting the financial needs of small businesses in and around the community. It’s a full-service bank offering business term loans, operating lines of credit, equipment loans and commercial real estate loans.

Bank OZK

Bank OZK is a regional bank headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas. It has 84 branches throughout the state. They’re a Preferred Lender of the SBA. Bank OZK offers small business financing, which includes SBA 7(a) Loans and SBA 504 Loans. Loan amounts range from $30,000 to $10,000,000. Eligible uses include, equipment, land or building acquisition, debt refinance, working capital, building expansion or renovation and new construction.

Bank OZK also has other industry specializations including aircraft loans, agricultural lending and large real estate construction projects and lending.

US Bank

US Bank is the fifth-largest bank in the country and has 37 branch locations in Arkansas. They’re also a Preferred SBA Lender. And, they offer the government-backed SBA 7(a) Loan Program, with loan amounts up to $5 million. Terms are up to 10 years for business, acquisition, equipment or tenant improvement and up to 7 years for working capital and inventory.

They also offers the SBA 504 Loan Program for owner-occupied commercial real estate purchases, refinancing and construction. This is with loan amounts up to $11.25 million with terms up to 25 years. Equipment loan terms are up to 10 years. Additionally, US Bank offers the SBA Express loan with loan amounts up to $250,000.

With US Bank, small business owners also have access to quick loans with loan amounts up to $250,000. Term loans amounts are up to $1 million and equipment financing loans amounts are up to $500,000.

Priority Bank

Priority Bank has served The Ozarks and Northwest Arkansas since 1993. They’re incorporated in the state of Arkansas and is a federally chartered Savings Bank located in Fayetteville. It’s regulated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and is a member of the FDIC. Small businesses have access to commercial real estate loans, small business loans, business lines of credit and agricultural loans.

Signature Bank of Arkansas

The Signature Bank of Arkansas is a small, local bank that has served small businesses since 2005. It has branches in Springdale, Rogers, Fayetteville, Bentonville and Brinkley. They offer real estate loans, construction loans, lines of credit, secured loans and business credit cards to help small businesses.

First Financial Bank

With deep roots in El Dorado, Arkansas, First Financial Bank (FFB) has served the community since 1934. They also has full-service banking operations in both Little Rock and Mena, Arkansas. FFB has a unique set of industry products and services. This includes pharmacy, veterinary, poultry and farm and ranch loans. FFB also offers business lines of credit and business term loans.

Timberline Federal Credit Union

Timberline Federal Credit Union has locations in Crossett, Fordyce and Hamburg, Arkansas. TFCU provides financing for a wide range of businesses expenses including, working capital, equipment, machinery, inventory, facility improvements and more.

Top Government Programs for Arkansas Small Business Loans

For small business owners looking to the state and Federal government, there are many options available. Here are some of the programs for Arkansas small business loans:

Arkansas Economic Development Commission

The Business Finance Division of Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) offers financing options to help businesses with the purchase of land, buildings, equipment and technology. Purchases help to expand operations and provide significant employment opportunities in Arkansas.

This program allows new and expanding businesses access to a variety of state and federal funding sources such as Amendment 82, Bond Programs, Community Development Block Grant and Equity Investment Tax Credit. Additionally, AEDC connects investors with a variety of funding partners for further financing opportunities.

The SBIR Program

The awards-based, Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program encourages small businesses to engage in Federal Research/Research and Development (R/R&D). The program is meant to enable small businesses to explore their technological potential and provide the incentive to profit from its commercialization. The SBA serves as the coordinating agency for the SBIR program.

The STTR Program

Another program that expands funding opportunities in the R & D space is the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program. The purpose of STTR is to expand public/private sector partnerships to include joint venture opportunities for small businesses and nonprofit research institutions. The STTR program allows small business to formally collaborate with a research institution in Phase I and Phase II. STTR’s role is to bridge the gap between performance of basic science and commercialization of resulting innovations.

Top Funds and Non-profit programs for Arkansas Small Business Loans

Local and statewide funds and nonprofit programs are also around to help Arkansas small business owners. Here’s a few to look into.

LiftFund

LiftFund is a nonprofit focusing on aiding Arkansas small business owners with limited access to loans and capital. With LiftFund, small business owners can apply for individual business loans up to $1 million and startup loans up to $50,000. Business and financial training programs are also available.

Innovate Arkansas

Innovate Arkansas is a state-funded initiative that helps scale promising Arkansas technology ventures. Innovative Arkansas is funded by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and administered by Winrock International. Innovate Arkansas helps technology entrepreneurs in turning startups into successful commercial enterprises.

FORGE Community Loan Fund

FORGE is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation, a SBA Intermediary Microlender and a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). FORGE’s promotes community development and economic stability. They provide small businesses and nonprofit organizations with affordable capital and business development services. Forge offers the General Credit Fund, SBA Microloans (for all 75 counties in Arkansas). They also offer USDA rural development loan programs and the FORGE Social Impact Fund.

Online Small Business Options

Easy access to the internet means there are plenty of online small business loan options to explore too. In many smaller local areas, traditional banks can’t offer options to small businesses at older rates. Online lenders like Kapitus have jumped into that space. Many online options can offer more personalized loan options with the aid of technology and algorithms. They can often process loan applications more quickly. This gives small business owners answers within a few hours versus a few days.

Online small business lenders typically offer a combination of term loans, equipment financing and lines of credit. Your qualifications might depend on your business’s revenue, time in operation and credit scores.

Grants for Arkansas Small Business Owners

Grants help stimulate the local economy and boost small businesses. Here are some of the grant programs available for Arkansas small business owners:

The Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas

The Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas (FHLB) is a cooperatively-owned wholesale bank. They encourage housing and economic development in the communities served by their member institutions in Arkansas. Arkansas small businesses can obtain grants through FHLB’s Economic Development Program.

Amber Grant for Women

If you are a female from Arkansas looking for a grant for your women-owned business, you can apply for the Amber Grant. This organization distributes monthly awards and year-end awards to help support small businesses.

Arkansas Economic Development Commission Division of Science and Technology

This organization offers state grants to Arkansas enterprises that stimulate economic growth and industrial competitiveness in Arkansas. Areas of interest include applied research, technology transfer, and development of innovative technology-based businesses.

Here are some other resources to find grants in Arkansas:

Central Arkansas Library System in Little Rock offers grant indexes and other resources related to grants and grant writing. They have an online database called the Foundation Center. You can find similar resources in Pine Bluff at the Jefferson County Library System. Additionally, they’re available in Fort Smith, at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith.

To search for Federal grants, visit Grants.gov.

The Bottom Line

Good baseline qualifications for Arkansas small business owners include: being open for at least one year; having a minimum annual revenue over $100,000 and credit scores above 550. If you’re looking for small business loans, Arkansas has a lot of options available. These loans and grants are one place to start. Kapitus is another. The Kapitus Small Business Program can give small business owners-like you-the funding necessary to succeed.

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How to Use Yoga to Destress at Work

It’s been a crazy day at work today. There are customer issues to deal with, employee management concerns to figure out, and you just realized there was an error in a recent order that was placed. You’re feeling frazzled, and all you really want is to center yourself and find some calm, but your next yoga class isn’t until the weekend, and you’re not sure you’ll make it that long.

You may not be able to use yoga to destress at work, especially if you don’t have the space for a mat or time for the practice, but there are many things you can take from yoga to center yourself in the workplace.

1. Focus on Your Breathing

One way to use yoga to destress at work is by being mindful of your breathing.

“By controlling your breathing to get calm, you start to adjust your nervous system,” says Melody Lima, an E-RYT 500 level yoga teacher. “The stress of day-to-day living and working activates our sympathetic nervous system to protect, survive, and prepare for intense physical activity, like running to safety. By controlling our breathing, we activate our parasympathetic nervous system, also known as rest and digest. Our heart rate slows, blood pressure decreases and our entire body relaxes and calms down. Easy gentle breathing stimulates this process and helps to reduce our stress level.”

Travis Baird, founder of Mindful Productive, agrees: “Even in the heat of an argument, you can come back to center by feeling the air move past your nostrils with one slow inhale and one slow exhale. Then, intentionally bring your focus back to the discussion at hand.”

 

Check out these 3 breathing techniques by Yoga and Meditation Teacher, Caren Baginski:

2. Practice Mindfulness

Meditation, the practice of concentration and mental relaxation, is an integral part of the yoga experience, and one way to use yoga to destress at work. If meditation comes easily to you — great! Take a few moments out of your day to meditate. However, if you find it anxiety-provoking because you don’t know how to quiet your thoughts, practice being mindful instead.

Baird says, “Since mindfulness is non-judgmental awareness in the present moment, you can practice it when you’re opening the building for the day, checking emails, or cleaning your workstation. Normally, we do these activities without any awareness, and as a result, we become disconnected from our routine activities. By practicing mindfulness for just a few moments, you can anchor yourself back in the present moment and enjoy a deeper connection with your lived experience.”

man painting at work while practicing mindfulness

Photo by Eddy Klaus on Unsplash

3. Observe Your Thought Patterns

Our inner monologue can be loud, especially if we haven’t mastered calming the “monkey mind” (as many yogis would call our thought processes). However, the patterns or topics we think about can tell us a lot about how we are feeling, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, we should pay more attention to what our thoughts are telling us, so we can move through them to calmer or happier experiences.

Baird explains how to accomplish this: “First, observe your thoughts for a moment instead of ignoring them. Second, name the experience that you’re having. Do you feel anxious or worried? Is there a tightness in your shoulders or a pit in your stomach? Then, the third step is to choose where to place your focus.When I use this ‘notice, name, choose’ process, I often find myself choosing to focus on one tiny positive and productive step that I can take to reduce the pressure of stress. Or, if I realize that I need to step away from my computer for a few minutes, I’ll take a brief walk outside and choose to focus on my senses as I walk.”

Lean about Monkey Mind so you can understand how to calm it!

4. Move Your Body

You may not be able to break out your yoga mat and move through a sequence in the middle of a busy workday, but stretching or moving your body can be restorative. There are many ways to accomplish this, whether you sit at a desk or are on your feet all day. Lima suggests, “If you sit a lot at your job, stand up. Reach your arms up overhead, and then to your sides, and finally, fold forward to touch your toes. Be kind and gentle by bending your knees and soften other joints like shoulders and hips. This helps to melt away the stiffness, as opposed to adding more stress to joints.”

Check out this short sequence of stretches you can do at your desk!

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National Organ Donor Day: An Interview with Author and Coach Hillary Rettig

February 14 isn’t just Valentine’s Day. It’s National Organ Donor day, and we’re excited spotlight a different kind of love. Organ donation is typically associated with pledging your organs end-of-life or giving to a loved one in need.  Much rarer is living organ donation to a stranger. We had the chance to speak to Hillary Rettig, an inspiring business owner, who did just that.

Taking the Plunge

Hillary Rettig is a Michigan-based productivity coach and author of the bestselling book, 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block and the forthcoming Productivity is Power! Five Liberating Practices for College Students. She coaches professionals, creatives and students on overcoming barriers to productivity.

In 2011, Rettig donated a kidney to a complete stranger. It had a profound impact on her life and work. After reading a New York Times article profiling kidney donation, Rettig decided to take the plunge. Donate Life reports that over 80% of people waiting for organs need a kidney. She visited Matching Donors to find a prospective recipient.

While viewing posts, she encountered one that captured her attention. It read, “I am a retired veterinarian from Colorado. My wife and I started a no-kill animal shelter 20 years ago to give animals a second chance at life. I would like a second chance too. We have invested everything to help save the animals.”

Rettig explains, “Every story you read is incredibly moving. I’m a vegan, activist, and have always had rescue dogs. Rescue is an important value to me, and it was wonderful to be able to help someone who had given so much to that.”

Living Through Expression

Living the expression of your values translates into Rettig’s work with clients. She focuses on empowering them to get more done. She wants clients to express meaning through their work. “Ultimately, do no harm is my highest value and I express that through veganism, activism, and through my work. Helping clients live their values and purpose is an important part of my work.”

Within a few months, Rettig was in the hospital undergoing the transplant. The process wasn’t without hiccups. Some of Rettig’s pre-donation blood tests came back low in key nutrients. She turned to Dr. John J. Pippin from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to help her advocate for moving forward.

He consulted and wrote a note. She forwarded it to the transplant center, explaining how diet impacts key blood levels. Ultimately, he concluded “vegetarian and vegan diets actually improve kidney function for patients with kidney disease.” The transplant team greenlit the procedure.

Don’t Let Fear Get in the Way

Rettig often guides clients to learn how to advocate for themselves as part of their journeys as entrepreneurs and creatives.

“When I worked with entrepreneurs in micro-enterprise, for example, they might encounter resistance. They’re the caretakers or problem solvers — and focusing on their business means less available time. Learning how to advocate for what they need is a crucial skill in long-term success,” she says.

The experience also highlighted the importance of striking a balance between compassion and boundaries. Rettig encountered resistance from family and friends who didn’t understand why she wanted to go forward with the procedure. This resistance came in ways that mirror what her entrepreneurial clients often face when starting new businesses.

“Some people react out of genuinely caring for you, and others have medical trauma or other fears they project onto you. It’s a good lesson: have compassion for people but set clear boundaries. Don’t let other people’s fear stop you from living your values or taking action on your vision,” she advises.

Donate, Impact, Grow

One benefit Rettig noticed immediately was higher self-esteem. “I’m very proud of helping to prolong a life. Studies show that organ donors experience higher levels of self-esteem.” Impact can be far-reaching. “Donating an organ can have tremendous rippling benefits through an individual’s life, their family and far beyond,” notes Rettig.

If you’re considering donating, Rettig says to research thoroughly–but seriously consider it. “For me, the donation really was an inconvenience as opposed to a major sacrifice. I honestly don’t know why more people don’t do it.”

Today, Hillary Rettig energetically pursues her own goals. This includes writing and coaching. She founded Vegan Kalamazoo and is campaigning around the U.S. for Bernie Sanders. Donating a kidney has only had positive impacts on her life, purpose and work, and she continues to thrive nearly a decade later.

 

This National Organ Donor day, learn more at Donate Life to explore your options.

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A Gift of Love

If you owe back taxes or are going through an IRS audit, it probably feels like the biggest problem in your life. But one tax expert–and small business owners–knows from personal experience: Even the biggest challenges can be overcome.

Mike Wallen is the President of Highland Tax Group, Inc. in Denver, Colorado. His company has been in business since August 2013. They provide dedicated tax resolution and audit representation services to business owners and individuals nationwide. Mike helps represent taxpayers before the IRS for appeals, audits and collections.

Mike also has personal experience with surviving and overcoming life-changing challenges: he is the recipient of an organ donation.

In honor of organ donors and the lives they save, February 14th is National Organ Donor Day. Today we are proud to share the story of Mike Wallen and how being an organ transplant recipient motivated him to be successful as an entrepreneur.

From Carefree College Life to Life-changing Illness

Mike Wallen studied at the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2001. He learned that he was suffering from severe kidney disease. Kidneys are such powerful organs that most people can survive with only one functioning kidney; but, unfortunately, both of Mike’s kidneys were starting to shut down.

“I started to feel very sick, short of breath, and unable to really get enough rest,” Mike said. “I finally went to the doctor and realized my kidneys were both failing.”

The only treatments for kidney failure are dialysis or an organ transplant. Dialysis treatment can be time-consuming and physically demanding. Receiving a kidney transplant is often a preferable option to help patients lead a full and active life.

mike wallen

Receiving a Kidney Transplant and a Gift of Love

“On October 25, 2001, I went on dialysis and was placed on dialysis for 6 months,” Mike said. “During this time, my father and I were tested to see if we would be compatible for him to donate a kidney to me.”

There is a shortage of kidney donors. Many people who receive a kidney donation are able to have a more compatible match and a more successful transplant if they can get a kidney donation from a living relative. Since people can live healthy lives with only one kidney, donating a kidney can be an ultimate act of love.

Fortunately, Mike was a good candidate for surgery, and compatible as a kidney donor. On March 29, 2002, Mike’s father donated a kidney to his son. The surgery was successful.

“The first few years after the kidney transplant were challenging with the anti-rejection medications,” Mike said. “However, I went on to finish my college degree by December 2003, and after graduation I started my career in the world of tax resolutions and audits, and I’ve been in this profession ever since.”

Finding Inspiration as a Kidney Recipient and Business Owner

Mike Wallen got a new lease on life as a result of his kidney transplant. He believes that getting a kidney from his father has made him a better person and a better business owner. Overcoming his major life challenge has given him added motivation to succeed, help others, and live life to the fullest. He stays physically active as a mountain hiker and cyclist, he’s a passionate fan of his Colorado Buffaloes and Denver Broncos, he has visited 12 other countries, and he’s a volunteer and supporter of the American Transplant Foundation to help other people who need organ transplants.

“I believe that receiving an organ has helped make me humbler and more empathetic in dealing with people who have issues with the IRS,” Mike said. “In a lot of cases, folks have medical issues which caused their tax problem.”

The 18th anniversary of his successful transplant soon approaches, but Mike’s health challenges are not necessarily over. Depending on how things go with his kidney health, he may need another transplant at some point in the future.

“I know that I am on borrowed time, somewhat, and so I make the most of every day,” Mike said. “I am super grateful for my work, my practice, my clients, staff, friends and family. I pour my heart into my business and I really enjoy helping people with the worst problem they’re up against in their lives. I think this is my way of giving back.”

No matter the challenges you face in your business or personal life, Mike Wallen is an inspiring example of how to overcome life’s biggest challenges – with empathy, love, gratitude, and service to others.

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The Best Valentine’s Day Fun Facts!

It’s Valentine’s Day yet again! Is it a special holiday to celebrate the people you love? Or, is it a corporate cash grab that should be dropped from the calendar? All depends who you ask! Whatever your opinion we bet you’ll enjoy these Valentine’s Day fun facts.

History

There are several different theories about how Valentine’s Day originated. One is that it celebrated the life and death of St. Valentine, a priest in Ancient Rome. The Roman Emperor outlawed marriage for young men as he thought if they were single, they’d be better soldiers. So St. Valentine helped marry young couples in secret. For breaking this unfair law, he was executed and became a martyr.

Another theory is that in mid-February, the Romans celebrated a pagan festival called Lupercalia. The Christian Church wanted to rebrand the holiday to St. Valentine’s Day. People began celebrating Valentine’s Day as a celebration of love in the Middle Ages while written cards first became popular after 1400 A.D.

In the United States, Americans have been exchanging Valentine’s Day greetings since the early 1700s, but it really became popular starting in 1900, when technology made it more affordable to print cards.

Valentine’s Day Spending

Today, Valentine’s Day is big business. So, just how much are people spending? The National Retail Federation found that American consumers plan to spend $27.4 billion on Valentine’s Day in 2020. Per consumer, that comes out to about $196.31 per person. Time to break out that wallet if you’re going to keep up. People seem to be feeling especially generous in 2020 because it’s a huge jump from last year, where they spent $20.7 billion.

In 2019, Valentine’s Day was the third ranked holiday for consumer spending. The only special occasions when people spent more were the winter holidays and Mother’s Day (so save some money to take care of Mom in May!)

Typical Gifts

Americans just wrapped up a massive shopping spree. Here’s the top seven most popular gifts, ranked in terms of amount spent:

  1. Jewelry
  2. An evening out
  3. Clothing
  4. Candy
  5. Flowers
  6. Gift cards
  7. Greeting cards

Even though greeting cards finished at the bottom of the list in terms of actual dollars spent, that’s because they were the least expensive item. Hallmark found that Americans send out roughly 145 million Valentine’s Day cards. Busy day for the post office! If you’re looking for a unique gift idea, consider paying for some sort of experience like a trip or a day spa visit, rather than the typical jewelry or chocolates. 41% of Americans said they would prefer getting this type of gift.

Finally, if you’re not sure whether to buy chocolates or roses, the data says go with candy! The majority of Americans said they’d prefer getting chocolate over flowers as a gift. And they might even share with you too.

People Getting the Gifts

To wrap up our Valentine’s Day fun facts, let’s see who received all these presents:

  • 51% went to spouses/partners/significant others
  • 15% went to other family members
  • 8% went friends
  • 7% went children’s classmates and teachers
  • 7% went to coworkers
  • 6% went to pets (Great to see the pet love, just don’t buy your dog chocolates!)
  • 6% went to someone else

 

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Karen Swim: Delivering Inspiring Ideas for Marketing and PR

Karen Swim built and grew Words for Hire LLC, a communications, marketing and PR agency based in Utica, Michigan. Words for Hire LLC helps companies with strategic communications, and to share their stories with their most important audiences. Karen’s journey to small business ownership was part of a larger process. She talks of navigating major challenges and finding a bigger meaning to life–all due to her business.

As part of our series “Inspiring Black Business Owners”, Karen shares her insights on what it takes for business owners to think like a CEO. She also speaks to the skill of building high-value relationships with customers.

Gaining Experience in the Corporate World

Before she started her own business, Karen Swim was successful in the health care industry. She worked for Quest Diagnostics–a Fortune 500 company. “I was in charge of operations in 7 states, I had a big job title, and I truly loved the company, but I wanted to take some time off,” Karen said. “So I stepped out of the workforce to take six months off.”

She had no idea just how drastically her life was about to change. “On my first day of assessing my next career steps, my husband started showing symptoms of what would turn out to be cancer,” Karen said. Sadly, Karen’s husband’s health condition worsened. Over the next two-and-a-half years she took time off from her corporate career to take care of him until he died. Suddenly at age 39, she was a widow.

Starting a Business Out of Grief

Karen’s path to becoming a small business owner began under tragic circumstances. But, she quickly found her inner strength and resilience to move forward. “I’d used all of my savings to care for my husband. I was widowed, and seeing the world through a different lens,” Karen said. “Traditional work no longer felt like the end of my journey. I wanted to impact the world in a different way, and have influence over the type of work culture and environment I was in. I wanted to do work that mattered, that made me feel good every day.”

Karen moved to Michigan to be closer to family. She knew that she had to start earning an income again after being a caregiver for her late husband. So, Karen decided to start her own business. She started doing freelance writing and PR projects, drawing upon her corporate experience and her creative craft as a professional wordsmith.

“I always loved writing, which is why my company is called Words for Hire LLC,” Karen said. “Starting my own business was empowering. I never focused on how big a move it really was. It took me like 2 years to realize, ‘I’m an entrepreneur, what am I doing, I don’t know what that means!'”

Over time, Karen developed a more sophisticated business model. She also built a larger team for her agency. “I think this is a mistake that a lot of business owners make, especially professional service providers and consultants, is that you’re often too focused on your craft or your expertise,” Karen said. “But being the CEO of your business is a different situation. You have to go get the new business, close the sale, set your procedures and policies, be in control. Dealing with clients as a CEO instead of just as a vendor plays into how they treat you and how much they pay you.”

Building a Career of Freedom, Meaning and Mission

Karen Swim has been able to create a more flexible and creative way of earning a living. She works on a variety of projects for clients that she’s passionate about in technology, health care and nonprofit fields. “I love the freedom to choose the type of work I do, the clients I serve, the skillsets that I develop. I am charting my own course and able to help others along the way to do the same,” Karen said. She “worked with a colleague on the launch of a disability care app, Joshin. The founders are incredible people who are doing such great work. We not only met our goals but it was truly fulfilling to know that we played a small part in helping families connect with a much-needed service.”

Karen believes that other Black small business owners can find the same freedom and empowerment that she has achieved. “The playing field is not level, that’s the reality of the world we live in, but you can make your opportunities,” Karen said. “Reach out to people who are where you want to be. Mentorship is essential. Don’t be afraid to ask other people for advice and ideas and support.”

Learn more about Karen Swim and her company at WordsForHireLLC.com, or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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Brent and Patrice Curvey’s “Coaches’ Kolaches:” Bringing a Taste of Texas to the Midwest

Flashback to years before Brent and Patrice Curvey became business owners. Brent was a freshman college football player who was feeling homesick for one of his favorite foods. Brent grew up in Houston, Texas. When he came to Ames, Iowa in 2003 to attend Iowa State University and play college football for the Cyclones, he was disappointed to discover that one of his favorite foods, kolaches, from his hometown couldn’t be found in his new college town.

Kolaches are a type of pastry that originated in the Czech Republic, but are also popular in Texas. They contain sweet bread and savory spiced meats, or sweet fruit preserves. They’re a sort-of-breakfast sandwich that can also make a filling, delicious lunch or dessert. But unlike in Houston, Brent couldn’t find a single kolache to be had in the bakeries of Ames.

Fast forward a few years. Brent went on to become a star defensive tackle at Iowa State, where his nickname was “Big Play” Curvey. Brent was slightly smaller for a defensive lineman. But, he had tenacity, a strong work ethic, and the strategic smarts for recognizing patterns. He put himself in the best position for success.

Moving On and Opening Up

Brent graduated from Iowa State in 2007. He went on to play professional football in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers for part of a season. For two years after, he played in the Canadian Football League with the Saskatchewan Rough Riders, where he won a Grey Cup championship ring in 2007.

Brent ended up moving back to Iowa, where he met his wife Patrice in 2009. He went on to coach football for the Iowa Barnstormers and for Grand View University in Des Moines. And in autumn of 2017, Brent and Patrice Curvey opened a business of their own, called “Coaches’ Kolaches,” selling their own homemade recipes of Brent’s favorite hometown food from Texas.

Sausage KolachesIn honor of Black History Month, we are spotlighting a series of Black-owned small businesses and sharing their success stories. We talked with Brent Curvey about his journey to entrepreneurship and how life lessons from football have helped him along the way.

Find Inspiration in Your Roots

Brent and his wife developed the idea for Coaches’ Kolaches based on Brent’s freshman-year memories of feeling homesick for his favorite pastries.

“It all started from me missing kolaches,” Brent said. “Back in 2003 when I came to Iowa State, kolaches were something from home that I wanted, to help me not be homesick, and I was curious to see that no one here had kolaches. My wife is a great cook, she cooks a lot, and a few years ago I asked her if we could figure out how to make some kolaches of our own.”

Brent and his wife worked together for 6-8 months to brainstorm and taste-test with different kolache ingredients and dough recipes, trying to find the right blend of flavors and textures.

I would take a notepad to work, she’d have a notepad at home, we would jot down our ideas, we would change up different ingredients and try new things,” Brent said. “And over time, we got the recipe right! And I realized, wow these are better than the kolaches I had growing up. So we just started building from there.”

Start Marketing to Your “Inner Circle”

Brent and Patrice Curvey opened their Coaches’ Kolaches storefront in October 2017 in Clive, Iowa, a suburb of Des Moines. They’ve built up a strong reputation for their business, starting by spreading the word among their local networks of friends, contacts and social media followers. Even without a big budget for advertising, sometimes a small business can be successful by marketing to the owners’ inner circle of people who already know them well.

“My wife is from Des Moines, and she knew a lot of people here and is just a really popular person in her social circles,” Brent said. “I was a locally known football player and coach, so I had some following on Twitter, and Facebook, and I would just start posting about our business, ‘Hey, come out and visit Big Play. Come see our new place.'”

The Curveys’ business was also able to get some media coverage from local TV news stations and local newspapers. Brent and his wife also catered some events with their kolaches. This was based on who they knew and where they had worked in their careers. “I was able to get in at Grand View University and did some small events. The word continued to spread from there,” Brent said.

Entrepreneurship Lessons from Football

Football is a physically demanding game, but it’s also a complex, mentally challenging game that requires a lot of advance preparation, self-discipline and intuition. Brent has discovered that there are some surprising ways that football prepared him for life as an entrepreneur. Football helped him learn the values of resilience and objectivity to stay mentally focused, upbeat, and strong in the face of obstacles.

“I’m honestly grateful for my background, playing football in college and professionally, because it allows me to understand even on those tough days in business, when a lot of money isn’t coming in but money’s going out – it’s like football, you have to stay disciplined, you have to keep going headfirst, no matter what,” Brent said. “You’re not going to make a big play in every game. But stay disciplined. Good things will come if you continue to stay where you need to be.”

Entrepreneurs and professional athletes have another aspect in common: they tend to be incredibly hard workers who are constantly looking for ways to improve their performance.

“The work ethic that I learned from football is huge, and maybe the biggest thing that I learned from football is how to ‘grade’ myself,” Brent said. “You watch film in football and study your opponent, study yourself, see what you can do better – that’s something I’m good at, and it matters as an entrepreneur, is having that ability to self-assess and make changes to help the business grow.”

Proud to Be a Black Entrepreneur

Brent and his wife love being business owners. They created a wonderful community grown around their business. “I would love to see more Black entrepreneurs, and more than anything I would love more people in the community to support each other,” Brent said. “There are lots of ways to help your friends’ businesses succeed. Even if you can’t come buy a kolache right now, share my posts on social media, help spread the word.”

His advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs? Don’t be afraid. There are risks of starting a business, but the rewards can be life-changing. “The first step is the hardest,” Brent said. “We’ve been doing this for more than 3 years, we started experimenting with recipes out of our own house. I’m so thankful we decided to start this business. It’s been great for our family, we’re meeting people from all over the community, and it renews and restores your energy based on the nice things people are saying about your business. If you want to start a business, take that chance. You don’t know where it will take you.”

 

Follow Brent and Patrice Curvey and Coaches’ Kolaches on Twitter (@CoachesKolaches), Instagram and Facebook. And if you’re in the Des Moines area, stop by and say “Hello”!

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