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Business ‘How-To’

Networking in St. Petersberg, Florida

St. Petersburg’s Best Business Networking Opportunities

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Networking over lunchJessica Rivelli can stand in a ballroom filled with 400 women entrepreneurs and business leaders and, seemingly, know them all.

It’s a reflection of how the Working Women of Tampa Bay founder has built her organization into one of the state’s fastest growing women’s business groups. In nine years, Rivelli’s group has risen to include nearly 1,000 members, and she’s expanded with a second chapter in the Orlando area.

Through monthly events, periodic seminars and annual conferences, Rivelli has managed to foster an atmosphere of motivation, education and inspiration.

Yet it’s Rivelli’s natural ability to enter an event teeming with people and emerge with new friendships that serves her so well.

Rivelli knows all too well the importance of networking, and she encourages those to engage with fellow businessmen and businesswomen, even when it can be daunting.

For the shy, the introverted and the increasing number of young people more accustom to communicating via emails, texts and social media, the idea of stepping into an organization’s luncheon or happy hour can be an intimidating challenge.

“If you’re new to the networking world, no need to be nervous,” Rivelli says. “Just remember everyone in the room is there for the same reason you are: to make new connections.

“One tip to make connecting easier is to ask people about the things they are passionate about like family, food and what they do for fun.”

Rivelli identifies approaching every opportunity with a genuine and authentic attitude as an important tenet, and the networker must go beyond what they can gain from the connection.

“Caring about others and creating value for them is the key,” Rivelli said. “Ask them how you can help them. Offer to make a connection for them or send them a referral. When those kinds of relationships are cultivated over the long term, you now have a network of people to draw upon when you have a need.”

But with so many networking options in Tampa Bay, and so little time to invest in events, how does one go about choosing the best opportunities?

Kyle Parks, principle and co-founder of B2 Communications in St. Petersburg, said he aims to go macro and micro. He frequents chamber of commerce events on both sides of the bay to connect with a diverse group of businesses. However, he also targets smaller events that focus on his specific interests.

“We stress to our clients to go narrow and deep with their involvements,” Parks said. “Don’t obsess about how many events you go to in a week. Instead, think about picking groups that match your interests, and also will help your business.

“Get on a committee, get involved,” Parks added. “That will get you a lot further than just going to events and hoping you meet the right people.”

Whether you’re looking for an organization that features broad collections of professionals, or smaller groups that target folks with similar interests, here are six great networking recommendations (in no particular order of preference).

No. 1: Rising Tide Innovation Center

Founded by the attorneys of the Fletcher and Fischer law firm, the cowork space burst onto the scene earlier this year and quickly established itself as a go-to for those looking to connect with a supportive community.

But it also hosts a multiple networking events including a monthly gathering staged by Rivelli.

The center’s other monthly events range from learning events to guest speakers. It also serves as a gathering spot for specific groups. Located in downtown St. Petersburg, the center sits in the heart of the business district and offers a smartly appointed environment in a convenient location.

Says Rivelli: “I admire what the founders of Rising Tide are doing by creating a gathering space for entrepreneurs and executives to connect and create together.”

No. 2: St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce

The chamber continues to reinvent its traditional role as a networking organization. Executive director Chris Steinocher says innovation is key.

“We’ve learned our members want unconventional opportunities to collide,” Steinocher said.

The chamber’s efforts include a weekly “Million Cups” event staged every Wednesday morning where it offers Kahwa coffee and two 9-minute presentations from local entrepreneurs.

At its “Member Appreciation Nights,” the chamber spotlights a new hotspot foodie/beverage place to check out. “Now Trending” is the lunchtime opportunity to network, eat and learn about the next hot topic in the burg.

Of course, the chamber still maintains one traditional approach: ribbon cuttings are a weekly if not daily occurrence. It introduces new entrepreneurs/businesses to the community, maintaining a mission it first started as the Board of Trade in 1899.

Steinocher, however, says the chamber has made a concerted effort to move into the 21st Century with an emphasis on diverse events and times.

“We’ve learned some want to connect in the morning, some at lunch and some after work – so we offer it all,” Steinocher said.

Learn more at www.stpete.com.

No. 3: Network Professionals Inc., South Pinellas County

This group provides a platform for small businesses to expand their salesforce by networking with a diverse group of professionals. It’s on the micro level, with one person exclusively representing a specific professional category. The group maintains a reputation of being friendly and outgoing, but it’s focus is definitely on business.

The strategy? Members refer business to each other, effectively becoming each other’s sales force. Meetings are weekly and structured for maximum results. Members join to grow their business, cultivate business resources and expand their networking sphere of influence.

In South Pinellas, the organization maintains a number of geographic chapters with some meeting in the morning and others gathering for lunch. For more information, visit https://www.npiflorida.com/chapters/?chapter=4

No. 4: Keystone Mastermind Alliance 

Co-founded by small business owners Liz M. Lopez and Tracie Thompson, the Keystone Mastermind Alliance touts itself as an organization that provides a high-quality and active networking environment. It’s particularly focused on helping professionals of all backgrounds.

The KMA Network offers a variety of events that combine networking opportunities with marketing information, access to business leaders and educational workshops. It strives to replicate a corporate support system for small business owners.

“Big companies don’t just have one person making decisions,” Thompson wrote on the KMA site. “They have an executive leadership team and a board of directors. Together they make healthy decisions for the growth of the company, bring new ideas to the table, and join forces to overcome challenges.

“Through our … events, we offer business owners a trustworthy and effective source of guidance and support that actively contributes to their growth and development.”

The networks stages events throughout Pinellas and routinely holds gatherings in St. Petersburg on Fridays. For more information, visit https://kmanetwork.com.

No. 5: LinkedIn

Okay, this isn’t a macro group or micro interest organization, but for those seeking the convenience of a targeted audience, this social medium can prove valuable. It’s not the face-to-face encounter of a traditional networking event, but LinkedIn often gives entrepreneurs the chance to make a direct connection with someone in their field.

“Social media can be incredibly helpful throughout the networking process,” Rivelli said. “I especially love LinkedIn. I consider it my digital Rolodex. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can be helpful as well especially for small businesses with small marketing budgets.”

If a specific person could serve as a cog with a major business goal, bid to link with them, but remain open to a future face-to-face meeting.

No. 6: Working Women of Tampa Bay

We end where we started. Rivelli continues to offer varied meetups in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties. The former television producer prides herself on the geographic diversity of her meetings as well as the size and scope. Working Women may offer a simple morning coffee or a luncheon with 200 people and a well-known speaker all in the same month.

It helps that Rivelli strives to make the group all-inclusive.

“It embraces everyone, every woman is welcomed,” she said. “There aren’t criteria on how much you make; you don’t have to be at an executive level.  It’s all women who work. That’s what makes it special.”

Yet it’s the supportive nature of the group that helps it thrives. In a world where women can, at times, be their own worst enemy, Working Women fight against the broad-brush assertion and genuinely fosters strong relationships between its members.

“I’ve experienced situations where a woman wasn’t always my best advocate in the workplace,” said Rivelli. “We want Working Women to be a place where women can be each other’s best ambassadors.”

We second that sentiment at Rising Tide Innovation Center. We’re striving to create a team of ambassadors for those who join our cowork collaborative. Every successful entrepreneur and business person rises with the aid of a community, and we enhance our community every day at Rising Tide.

 

Start-up business

How to Side-Hustle Your Way to a Successful Start-Up

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Collaboration to start a businessWhen Forbes magazine anointed Clearwater native Sara Blakely as the youngest self-made female billionaire in 2012, the Spanx founder proudly boasted on her website: “Putting her butt on the line pays off.”

It’s a line you might expect from someone who dabbled in stand-up comedy and once worked as a chipmunk at Disney. But what you may not realize is that Spanx — the multi-million dollar brand that Blakely initiated as “legless panty hose that offered control without the leggings — started as a side hustle.

According to various reports, including the Tampa Bay Times, Blakely was selling fax machines for Danka in Florida when she originated her idea. She cut the feet off of her stockings in order to wear them under her white pants for a more flattering look.

With only $5,000 in her savings account she first pursued her dream, she continued to work her day job—even after a transfer to Atlanta. It took her two years to fully develop the product and she stayed at Danka even after landing deals with Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman.

It wasn’t until she scheduled an appearance on an episode of Oprah, anticipating a huge boost in sales, that she quit her day job.

The story, however, illustrates that a side hustle can turn into a success, even if you’re not steep in industry knowledge.

“Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know,” Blakely told the Tampa Bay Times. “That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.”

Everyone aspires to be Blakely, seamlessly slide into a side hustle and eventually enjoy success. Here are five factors that can help you “get it done.”

 

ONE: GET STARTED

Rebecca Livermore, who turned her side hustle into Professional Content Creation, says one of the nation’s common surnames is “Someday,” noting that Mr. and Mrs. Someday always talk about starting a side hustle, pursuing a passion or elevating above their “soul-sucking job” but never do it.
We’ll address some of the foundational blocks needed to get started—priority, plan, passion, pay—but the side hustle will remain an incomplete endeavor if those elements remain stuck in your mind.

Blakely employed a learn as you go approach but made sure she embarked on the venture even with limited financial resources and scant knowledge about the textile industry. A willingness to learn from early failures and a drive sustained her effort. It took two years just to persuade a hosiery mill to even make an initial run of her product.

“Trust your gut,” she said.

Another great piece of advice: stay mum. Blakely purposely did not tell anyone about her initial legless pantyhose idea for an entire year because she did not want to have to defend it or be talked out of it.

Sure, you want to share your hopes and aspirations with a few friends, but it’s probably best to hold your side hustle cards close to the vest, especially regarding the co-workers at your day job.

 

TWO: GET YOUR PRIORITIES IN ORDER

The side hustle requires that it stays on the side in the beginning. You have to maintain a focus on your daily duties, so you don’t jeopardize your primary source of income. Daymond John, founder of the FUBU clothing line and a co-star on television’s Shark Tank, worked at Red Lobster for five years while getting his business off the ground. He says his nights as a server helped him serve up security at home in case his fledgling business went belly up. And even after he started bringing in money, he continued to wait tables.

Of course, that doesn’t remain an option if you lose the steady pay of you regular job. Follow these three admonitions to avoid that pitfall:

  • Don’t let the side hustle become a distracting daydream but take a minute when you can to write down reminders about your side hustle.
  • Don’t do work for your new venture while you’re on the clock at your existing job.
  • If the businesses are related, don’t plot to steal clients and make sure you won’t be subject to a no-compete clause.

The bottom line is while you can maintain two separate jobs, you can’t mix business with business.

 

THREE: GET TIME ON YOUR SIDE

The best way to separate work from your side endeavors is to hustle in the off hours. So many people say they don’t have time to initiate an outside effort, but it really boils down to making the most of your spare hours.

One key step involves routine. If you get accustom to focusing on your side hustle during a specific time every day, you’re going to generate more efficiency.

Livermore said she made a point of doing specific client work for her side business in the morning before she reported to work. John worked only when his Red Lobster stints allowed time to focus, and he admits to sewing together some of his initial apparel offerings after midnight.

“I said to myself, ‘I’m going to put in three hours on this business a week,” John told Fortune magazine. “If I can last, I’m going to put in eight hours a week.”

Novelist Michael Connelly also spent late-night hours writing his first crime fiction books after covering crime stories for the Los Angeles Times. Interestingly, he had to purchase black out curtains and dim the lights in his home after leaving the Times because he needed the mood to generate the dark, gritty feel of his works.

Now Bosch, the Amazon Prime series in its fourth season, is based on one of Connelly’s most popular characters.

The routine, however, cannot lead to over-working, stress and potential burnout. The side hustle requires work and determination, but it also necessitates a focus on your physical and mental well-being.

“In the early days when I was working around the clock, I reached a point when I nearly cracked,” O2E Brands founder Brian Scudamore wrote in a piece for Inc. “I started having panic attacks and suffered from severe anxiety. I realized overworking myself wasn’t doing me or the business any favors: our growth had stalled and I wasn’t having fun anymore.

“It was only when I learned to delegate to my team that we started to pick up momentum again.”

 

FOUR: GET A PLAN

Julius Davis, co-founder and owner of Tampa-based Volt Air engineering firm didn’t start his business as a side hustle, but he did spend long hours planning a transition for his independent bid. While working for an engineering firm, Davis started acquiring knowledge to venture out on his own.

“My business partner and I, when we were working at another firm together, we would go in on our lunch breaks or our coffee breaks and sign up for classes at the (University of South Florida) Small Business Development Center,” Davis told the Tampa Bay Times. “They had classes on how to start the business … and we attended all those classes they had to offer.

“The key thing was writing that business plan because that forces you to set the roots and foundation for everything you need. It asks questions you really don’t have the answers to, and it forces you to go get the answers and make sure you know what you’re doing.”

Some of the answers must revolve around key financial decisions. If your monetary resources are limited, avoid debt and spend only on the items that are truly necessary. Inc. contributing writer Jeff Haden recently wrote that side hustle entrepreneurs need to be judicious.

“Before you spend money, always ask yourself one question: “Does (this) touch the customer?” If it doesn’t, don’t buy it.

For all of her success, it’s worth nothing that when producers from Oprah reached out to Blakely, she didn’t have a web site. She told Forbes she worked tirelessly but didn’t spend money on marketing and business tools until after the product took off.

 

FIVE: GET PASSIONATE, GET PATIENCE, GET PAID

One of the biggest keys to generating success with your side hustle involves determining your self-worth.

The business plan must involve setting an incremental schedule for income. You may start with a lower price for your product or services, and then increase it as you gain experience and clients gain confidence in your services. However, be careful not to undervalue your work. The long hours and added effort need to pay off eventually.

Patience may prove as valuable as pay in getting your business off the ground.

“Making the decision to pursue your passion is exciting and rewarding,” Scudamore said. “But try to resist the urge to do too much, too soon. Building a business from nothing is a long, arduous process and it will be slow (at least in the beginning). If you try to grow too fast, you’ll set yourself back.”

Finally, passion remains another key ingredient. Davis, the Tampa engineer, now maintains one of the nation’s leading firms with multi-million contracts at Houston Hobby International and Tampa International Airports. But the business wasn’t always a bed of roses.

His love of the work sustained him in the early days of his independence.

“You have to make sure you have the passion to do what you want to do,” Davis said. “It can’t be money because if you have a passion, the money will come. It’s going to be challenging, it’s going to be frustrating. You may get discouraged and that’s how a lot of businesses (get derailed).

“Some people say, ‘I went out on my own because I want to be my own boss.’ That doesn’t work. You have to find something you really have a passion for and then everything else will fall into place. If you have a passion for it, you’re not going to let it fail.”

 

The Rising Tide Innovation Center can prove a viable option as you look to find your passion, establish a plan and build your side hustle into a success. In our cowork space, you can find the tools, support and community spirit needed to launch your effort and sustain it through the early days. Pay us a visit when you’re ready to get started.

 

Small business strategy

4 Big Biz Behaviors That Can Benefit Small Businesses

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ideas for small businessEvery episode of Shark Tank comes with a B2B tutorial, and it’s often building that impossible bridge that connects big, successful CEOs to small, ambitious startups and entrepreneurs.

As each shark assesses the pitch, they often disburse advice that the hopefuls can take away even if they don’t come away with an offer. Whether it’s Lori Greiner telling someone how to cut down on shipping costs, or Kevin O’Leary explaining how to boost profit margins, the knowledge disseminated helps make the show popular.

The reality show helps people understand a specific reality: small business novices can learn from big business success.

Here are four big business hacks any small business can use to take a bite out of everyday entrepreneurial challenges.

Behavior #1 Create Team Buy-In

Entrepreneurs and small businesses focus on creating a foundation that will help them launch the business. Sometimes, however, they fail to lay out how the business will grow. In a Goldman Sachs YouTube broadcast, the company’s CEO and chairman, Lloyd C. Bankfein said while it’s important to focus on product and customers, entrepreneurs also need a strategy.

“Don’t forget to think about your business,” Bankfein said. “What your plans are, what you want to do next, how to take your business to the next level. Think about being in your business but think about your business as well.”

In short, you need a strategic plan that focuses on increasing customers, generating revenue and putting your company in a better competitive position. It sounds obvious, but many don’t create plans that are written, detailed and thoughtful. A rising trend involves the SMART approach of goal setting, making each target:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

The most important key, however, may involve getting fellow employees, as well as investors and customers, to buy into the mission. The plan must be shared and understood by your support players, even if it that’s just a small group.

Martin Jones, a senior marketing manager with Cox Communications, recently wrote that business leaders can follow the lead of CEO giants like General Electric’s Jack Welch by being, “the driving force behind everything you do. No one will ever care about your business as much as you do, so it’s on you to be the source of ambition and drive.”

That seems to be advice heeded by Well+Good media platform co-founders Alexa Brue and Melisse Gelula. Brue says getting buy-in from their team helped them emerge in a competitive field.

“Uniting everyone around why we do what we do is the most important thing,” Brue said. “I think that people want to make a difference, and so all of us feeling like we’re putting out information that’s making a difference and that our company conducts itself in a way that is demonstrative of our core values is really important. That sets a lot of cultural tone.”

Behavior #2 Figure Out the Financing

Everyone seems to hold a different theory about financing new businesses. Some say you have to spend money to make money, while others insist don’t spend money until you start making money.

Part of that strategic growth plan involves understanding how to fund your startup and when to seek outside dollars. The traditional model typically involves borrowing money from a bank. Small-term and medium-term loans remain an option, but other possibilities have emerged as the economy has rebounded. As Dallas doctor and Forbes contributor Amir Baluch notes, the business community finds itself surrounded by lenders hungry to put capital to work in small businesses at low rates and with simple qualifications. The sharks are eager.

The options include lines of credit, working capital and strategic partnerships.

  • A line of credit can be set aside for emergencies or specific needs and the interest may accrue only on the money drawn from the line and the amount you draw down on.
  • A working capital loan generally aimsto cover operational costs for a short moment in time, usually an anticipated period of slow growth. In some instances, they can be paid in smaller daily payments as opposed to larger monthly sums.
  • Strategic partnerships are at the core of the Shark Tank For the promise of a percentage of profits, investors are willing to lend capital as well as advice and connections. Earlier this year, Fox Business News featured Chef’s Cut Real Jerky co-founder Dennis Reidel credited the growth of his business to a partnership with marketing whiz Rohan Oza and Halen Brands. In four years, the business grew from $460,000 in profits to $47.5 million in profits.

Start-up capital can help ignite a startup business, and it allows the owner to focus on other needs.

Behavior #3 Prioritize Tasks

Shark Tank star and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban likes to tell entrepreneurs, “Choose something that you both love and you’re good at doing.”
However, between creating and implementing a growth strategy and finding the funds to fuel the strategy, it’s easy to see how a small business owner could get lost in pursuit of what they love and they’re good at.

There are several keys to avoiding this pitfall. Just as big businesses craft processes to streamline production, small business owners must do the same.

  • Create goal lists and categorize what needs to be done annually, monthly, weekly and daily. Create synergy with the growth plan. Troy Dye, Capital One Chief Marketing Officer, Small Business Credit Cards, recently wrote in an entrepreneur blog that, “If tasks do not align with goals, they should be eliminated.”
  • Delegate to team members; hire an assistant. Some tasks, while important, need to be handled by others so the leader can focus on growing the business.
  • Outsource; utilize contractors. This not only allows some tasks to be lowered in priority, but the contractors often bring knowledge and expertise to the task.
  • Take advantage of technology; With each advance, marketing techniques continue to benefit small business owners and help them curb work demands.

In the final assessment, entrepreneurs are required to put in the work, but New York Times best-selling author Jon Acuff told entrepreneur Ryan Robinson, “Hustle is an act of focus, not frenzy. Hustle is about subtraction and addition. It’s not about doing more, it’s about focusing on the things that you need to do, in order to move your business forward.” He advises: “Hustle the right way.”

Behavior #4 Be a Sponge

Small business owners need to realize they can learn a lot from big businesses, and that big business CEOs never stop learning. Even after building up his Lifestyle Fitness Centers from one club to a chain that annually enjoyed revenues of more than $100 million, fitness club magnate Geoffrey Dyer still made it a point to attend trade shows with pad and pencil.

“You should always want to be learning, otherwise I would be very fearful of what’s around the corner,” Dyer once told the Tampa Bay Times. “I think the thirst to learn is inherent in an entrepreneur.

“The passion to learn, I don’t think that ever goes away. I hope it never does.”

The lessons he gathered paid off. After selling most of his Lifestyle Fitness centers to LA Fitness in 2012, Dyer got back in the business as a partner with Crunch Fitness West Florida and Atlanta in 2015.

 

The Rising Tide Innovation Center offers opportunities for entrepreneurs to build their business, implement big business lessons and even network with successful CEOs. Engage with the community at this St. Petersburg cowork space and experience how a rising tide lifts all boats.

 

Small business marketing

5 Marketing Elements to Turn Moments into Movements 

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Small business marketingSamyr Qureshi and his partners launched their business, Knack, in 2015 with a belief a peer-to-peer college student tutoring app akin to Uber would enjoy success.

Just as Uber connects passengers with drivers, the app Qureshi and his University of Florida student partners developed linked tutors who had earned high grades in specific courses to students struggling with the same courses.

Yet they knew they had to connect their idea to the students and tutors to make it flourish. They knew they had to have a marketing plan. They decided to do more than employ traditional approaches.

One approach was to incentive the tutors.

“We launched a tutor rewards program,” Qureshi said. “Essentially we built a tutor store for them to order personalized marketing collateral they could use to kickstart their marketing efforts on-campus. After a Knack Tutor’s first session, they’d get free credit to spend in the store.”

The tutor store not only helped them grow the business at UF, it played a key role in spurring its development into a national company. Now Knack is active on 40 college campuses across the country and considered a top start-up.

Marketing remains a key tool in helping entrepreneurs turn moments into movements. A strategic plan creates a network of connectivity that attracts and retains customers, creates buy-in and spurs business development. Here are the five elements of marketing you must master if you want to grow a thriving, sustainable business beyond the start-up phase.

 

#1. Master the Message

Your message is your magic; it’s how you solve your prospective client’s wake-up-in-the-morning problem in a way that is unique. You must be able to communicate your message powerfully and effectively whether you have an hour and 100 PowerPoint slides, or only 30 seconds in a rickety elevator. Too often the message gets muddled in fuzzy acronyms and what Inc. contributing writer Geoffrey James calls “corporate speak.” It’s best to build your brand around a message with familiar concepts, clear analogies and concise language. When Qureshi says, “It’s like Uber for tutoring,” he capsulizes the aim of Knack in seconds. His prospects know exactly what Knack and for whom. It may be tempting to skimp on this part because you think “Eh, it’s only a few words.” The fewer the words, the greater the impact. For example, test yourself and see how many of these messages you immediately associate with a brand (Hint: some are no longer used, but are so powerful they have become part of the American lexicon.):

  1. “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”
  2. “Always low prices.”
  3. “Where shopping is a pleasure.”
  4. “We try harder.”
  5. “Think different.”
  6. “For life.”
  7. “Imagination at work.”
  8. “Just do it.”
  9. “Two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onion-on-a-sesame-seed-bun.”
  10. “Have it your way.”

(The answers are at the bottom of this blog.)

Maybe your message won’t be a clever tagline. If you aren’t particularly clever with words and can’t yet afford an agency to help you come up with a catchy slogan, just start with this statement: “We help [describe who you help for example: “women over 40”] with [insert the problem you solve for example: “look a decade younger in just 30 days”] [hint at how you solve it in a unique way “without wasting hundreds of dollars on expensive department store lotions and potions that don’t work anyway.”]

 

#2 Manage the Media

Once you master your message, explore ways to propel it into the stratosphere through various social media platforms and generate buzz about your business.

There are three keys to success on social media:

1) Go where your prospective clients and/or referral sources hang out. If they are mostly on Instagram, you don’t want to be spending all day on LinkedIn or Twitter. If they love memes and lots of chit chat, don’t keep giving them soliloquys. Go where they are and speak their language.

2) Tailor your message for each outlet. The different platforms target different audiences, and the rules of each platform vary. Know the rules so you can play by them—and then disrupt them when you are ready. Words win out on Facebook, but it’s all about pics on Instagram and Pinterest. Everybody loves a good video—even LinkedIn is getting in the video game. Start with creating your own YouTube channel.

3) Don’t just “connect and forget.” Be sure to engage consistently and frequently. Don’t send the wrong signal with a Twitter account that’s grown inactive or a Facebook page that simply promotes your business without engaging others. Quality content can drive traffic and help build your Internet presence. Word of Mouth Marketing Association president Suzanne Fanning told Forbes, “Brands are too caught up in collecting social media fans and they are forgetting to actually connect with them.”

Finally, don’t underestimate the value of traditional media. A story on a reputable web site or an appearance on a popular television or radio show lends credibility and authenticity to your content marketing strategy and your brand. Social media is great but learn to write a media release that catches a journalist’s attention as well.

 

#3 Meet the Mentors

Mentors can be key to not only offering wisdom but opening the doors to greater opportunities. An established business leader can help you master the message, manage the media, and then they can introduce you to key figures in your industry. Entrée into a networking group can lead to pivotal connections. A meaningful conversation over lunch, a round of golf, or during Wine Down Wednesday can be rocket fuel for your marketing. Think about how many entrepreneurs who have crafted winning ideas on a cocktail napkin. How do you meet a great mentor? Community involvement – such as professional organizations, civic organizations, or a cowork space – can provide the pipeline to sage advisors.

 

#4 Manufacture Ambassadors

A team of folks who champion you, your idea and your spirit can prove invaluable. Message, media and mentoring can get you in the game, but ultimately you must win over every day community members and get them talking about your product. Angel investor Neil Patel refers to this tactic as creating “brand evangelists,” people willing to go out and preach the word about your product or service. It’s certainly clients whose satisfaction you can convert into testimonials, but it’s also family members, friends Nielsen research indicates that 92 percent of consumers trust recommendations from family and friends over every form of advertising. “Hey grandma, do you have a Twitter account?” Go beyond those who love you unconditionally and hire people with strong reputations who can meet your needs and promote your idea. And, connect with people who like you Facebook posts or heart your tweets. Let them know it’s appreciated and ask them to spread the word. There are countless stories about how companies got a bounce by creating a buzz among everyday citizens. If the United States has more than 180 ambassadors, you should aim to have just as many.

 

#5 Maximize the Brand

Whether you are a start-up with little budget or Nike, Inc., smart businesses find ways to leverage investments.  And, swag is a great and often, low barrier method to get your brand and messaging out to larger audiences.  First, internally, as the leaders at Knack knew – give your own team some swag that easily enables them to spread your message to prospective employees or clients.  People are (often) proud of where they work and likely to promote outside of the office.  Additionally, if you’re a company that’s working events, tradeshows or conferences – using your brand color creatively — from scarves, ties and shoes can be an easy conversation starter.  ChappellRoberts, a Tampa-based advertising and marketing agency, launched a big new brand for a financial services company, and one of the investments that company made was in well-made apparel and accessories for the team because they do so many client facing events.  More than five years later, the representation of this company brand at tradeshows is still a large differentiator for them. Second, externally, swag gives you opportunity to build brand loyalty and affinity with your paying customers.  Customers or clients want to know you get them, if you’re an innovation company – surprise your audience with something that relates to your unique industry and potentially makes their lives easier such as portable chargers or cell phone lights. If nothing else, get some company T-shirts and wear them everywhere you go. You might be surprised how many people ask you about what you do.

Need more ideas about marketing? Come hang out with us at Rising Tide Innovation Center. We believe in collaboration, community and the power of co-working for success.

 

1.FedEx 2. Walmart 3. Publix 4. Avis 5. Apple 6. Volvo 7. G.E. 8. Nike 9. McDonald’s 10. Burger King

Business Plan for Start-Ups

One-Page Business Plan to Jump-Start Your Start-Up

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Business Plan for Start-UpsBusiness plans come in all shapes and sizes, depending on their purpose. Lenders typically require much more formal and detailed business plans, complete with financial projections, tax returns, and other financial records and disclosures attached. The Small Business Administration (SBA), in particular, since it guarantees government-backed loans, expects to see a voluminous and detailed business plan and presentation. Just when you think you have it nailed, they are likely to ask for some more documents.

Venture capitalists and investors will eventually want to see all the details of your plan, but initially, they are going to want to see a presentation that captures their imagination. Some just want you to get right to the numbers—or at least that’s what they say. Read “Pitch Anything,” by Oren Klaff, though, before you buy that line.

Marketers and agencies who’ll be running your campaigns, on the other hand, will want to know all about your ideal clients/target audience, unique sales proposition, competitors and the like, but won’t care at all about your personal tax returns from 2008.

So, if you are getting ready to start a business, do you need a business plan? And if you do, what type of business plan, exactly do you need?

The answer to the first question is: Yes, you need a plan.

Think of it this way. If we were to start out on a road trip, let’s say from St. Petersburg to Las Vegas, and we just hopped in the car and began driving without a map or a GPS or any directions at all, we might eventually wind up in Vegas. Or not. Of course, if we did make it, it would take you a whole lot longer, and we likely would wind up going down many, many wrong paths and getting lost before we got there.

But, if we put the address to our destination in the GPS and let it map out the exact route, well, we still might take a wrong turn here or there, but we’d likely course-correct pretty quickly and get back on the right road faster. In no time (35 hours, exactly, if we didn’t stop), we’d end up in in Vegas, partying our asses off at The Bellagio.

It’s the same with a business plan. We could build a business without a plan, but with a plan makes a whole lot more sense.

The next step, then, is to decide what kind of plan you need. If you are seeking funding, then you need to find out from the potential source of your funding what they would expect to see in a plan because, as stated earlier, lenders and investors can be picky.

If, however, you just need a plan for YOU, and you really aren’t that great at planning or excited about it, then try this simple, one-page business plan to help you get started.

Set aside a morning, with a fresh cup of coffee and no distractions, to work on your simple plan. The purpose of this plan is to help you get your business idea down on paper and out of your head so you can start assessing its viability.

This is not a be-all-end-all plan, it’s a starting point. Over time, you may want to elaborate on this plan. When you are ready, you can check of resources like SCORE, a service of the SBA designed to help small business owners with issues like preparing business plans, or you can buy a few books (there are many on Amazon), or simply Google “business plans for small businesses,” and you’ll find lots of options.

Ready to get started? Click here for your plan.

What is your why?

Why Knowing Your ‘Why’ is so Important for Your Business

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What is your why?The wafting aroma is the first to invade your senses.

Your fingers warm to the touch, twitching in anticipation. You raise the cup, eager to ignite your taste buds and spark your adrenaline. You don’t just want it, you crave it.

Coffee.

Every morning, millions start the day with all the prerequisites: shower, dress, drive. The day doesn’t really start, however, until that first sip of coffee. According to the National Coffee Association, the number of Americans who drink coffee on a daily basis rose to 62 percent in 2017. On average, coffee drinkers spend about $1,000 a year on coffee at $3 a pop.

We love our magic coffee beans, partially because they taste like manna from heaven, but mainly because coffee revs us up like hi-test gasoline.

The truth is, however, as an entrepreneur, it is not caffeine that really gets you going in the morning. The true source of any entrepreneur’s motivation is an internal spark that drives you toward success. You need a different kind of brew coursing through your veins—no less desirable, no less delicious—but more plentiful and abundant.

It’s your “why,” an internal java you can use to tap into during moments of challenge, to help push beyond your comfort zone and, ultimately, to achieve your goals.

Your “why” is the reason you started this business in the first place, and it goes far beyond the bottom-line. It is about what’s at the heart of your entrepreneurial actions. While your “why” may explain your desire for those tangibles, it’s about more than a single word, like money or fame or success.

As Simon Sinek says in his book Find Your Why, “Money is a result … the question we ask is, what is the reason (people) want the money. Is it for freedom? To travel? To provide a lifestyle for their kids that they didn’t have? The point is, money isn’t the thing that drives people. WHY goes much deeper to understanding what motivates and inspires us.”

Understand, however, your why, your internal cup of coffee, must be a special blend. It’s not some manufactured instant brand you’re dumping out of a tin can and into a coffee maker. It’s a matter of marrying five special tenets together to create the perfect entrepreneurial pot of everyday inspiration.

 

  • Vision.

    Every entrepreneur needs to envision what they hope to achieve. It’s good to have always dreamed of owning your own business. Now that you’ve embarked on the journey, what’s the destination? What are you striving to achieve? The more clarity you can include in the answer, the more you can heighten the possibilities. To be successful is too vague. You need specific benchmarks, perhaps noting how much you want to make in Year 1, Year 3 and Year 5. Or how many clients you want to attain in those some periods. Why does vision need to be in the blend? Because reaching those milestones will keep you going?

  • Values.

    Now that you’ve targeted a destination, what’s the mode of transportation. Hard work, of course, will be at the core, but your internal belief system will dictate how you reach those benchmarks. Will you do so with integrity and care for others, creating a foundation that will boost your future? Will you keep your principles at the forefront of your decision-making, never losing sight of what’s more important? Knowing that you’re guided by key standards will fuel your drive. Why do values need to be in the blend? Because how you succeed is more important than success alone.

  • Talent

    The word immediately conjures visions of inherent, God-given gifts: Michael Jackson moonwalking across the stage. If you’re bringing natural abilities to the entrepreneurial effort, great. Talent, however, also can be acquired through training. The biggest key is determining the skills you need to succeed, taking a concise inventory of your strengths and weaknesses and then working to supplement them. Why does talent need to be in the blend? Because there’s always room for improvement.

  • Passion.

    Your vision, your values and your talent all must be rooted in your passion. It’s the most essential ingredient in your special blend of why. Passion will make you sharpen your vision, elevate your values and enhance your talent. That love will make it seem like the blood, sweat and tears you’re putting in every day is worth it. It’ll spur you to complete the mundane tasks and nurture your euphoria when you’re truly doing what you love. Why does passion need to be in the blend? Because Mark Twain said, “Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.

  • Community.

    No one succeeds on their own. The greatest entrepreneurs had mentors who lent advice, friends who carried them through the struggles and even acquaintances who told them “no” when they needed a dose of reality. No one, especially those just starting their own business, has all the answers. But your “why” is built around a never-ending quest to find those answers. Why does community need to be in the blend? Because asking the right question and asking the right person can be more important than thinking you have the right answer.

At Rising Tide Innovation Center, our “why” centers on our passion for community. We’ve invested in this co-work space not out of necessity, but because building community excites and enriches us. In a word, our “why” is you. We’re passionate about creating a community to support entrepreneurs like you in making your dreams come true so that, together, we can create a positive impact on the world.

It’s why we can’t wait to leap out of bed in the morning. Well, that, and our cappuccino.

How to perfect your elevator pitch

7 Tips to Prepare the Perfect 60-Second Elevator Pitch

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How to perfect your elevator pitch

Since the dawn of time, society has valued storytellers.

Cavemen crafted images on the walls to share a tale. Marathoners run 26.2 miles today because legend has it the messenger Phidippides ran that distance from Marathon to Athens in 490 BC to deliver the message that the Persian Army had been turned away.

In today’s world, storytelling and messaging still holds great value, but how you tell the story, and how you deliver the message has changed. Today’s world is dotted with shorter attention spans, competing interests and hand-held devices that can undermine the most gifted narrators.

The 21st century requires the entrepreneurial storyteller to be concise, captivating and cunning. Your story is a work of art that must be crafted with flexibility and honed through practice.

The classic elevator pitch informs a person who you are, whom you serve and how you serve them, but it’s how the business owner answers those three critical questions that can be the biggest difference between winning over a prospective client or investor or failing to spark their imagination.

Here are seven tips to follow when perfecting your pitch.

  1. Hook at the Start.

    The most important tool when a person goes fishing is not the rod, the reel or the line. It’s the bait. If you never hook the fish, you’ll never reel it into the boat. After you introduce yourself, your next sentence or two has to grab your target. They can be analogous, bold or even a bit mysterious, but they have to pique the person’s interest and make them stop and listen.

  • Analogous? One rising Tampa Bay-based startup, Knack, uses a digital platform to help college students find course expert tutors. That’s a 12-word description, but you can shorten it to: It’s like Uber for college tutoring. That’s half as long and the analogy creates a parallel with one of the world’s most successful companies.
  • Bold? Another entrepreneur might start with the proclamation. I’m going to disrupt the fast-food market with a revolutionary approach. Action verbs like revolutionize, disrupt, change and enhance can be used if they rest of the story backs up the boast. It’s a matter of being confident, but not cocky.
  • Mysterious? This may be the most difficult of the three. Too little information in the first two sentences may cause the person to lose interest. Too much could overwhelm. But the right start creates intrigue. Five years ago I arrived in the balmy Virgin Islands as a lawyer in a hot blue suit and now I’m one of the country’s most critical business owners. OR I never would have become an entrepreneur if my high school girlfriend didn’t show up at my dad’s funeral. Intrigue leads the person to keep listening.
  1. How and Why.

    Once you hook them, snap back on the rod to embed the hook. Offer a summary sentence that lays out the direction of the conversation by succinctly detailing not only what you do, but how you do it and why you’re in this business venture. The “what” bridges the beginning of the conversation to the heart of the solution your business offers. The “how” defines the approach. The “why” reveals the purposeful and passionate foundation of your pitch. These three distinct tenets can be captured in one or two sentences. Consider the founder of a new fast-food chain making a pitch: My name is Joe Smith and I’m going to disrupt the fast-food market with a revolutionary approach. My company will marry the expediency diners have grown accustom to with the rising demand for healthier options by creating an irresistible menu of farm to table options. I created this company because I grew tired of feeding my kids fast food I knew wasn’t healthy.

  2. Create Touchpoints.

    At this point, your listener is engaged. Take a very quick moment to express appreciation and create a touchpoint, a commonality the two of you may share that can propel their interest in you and your story. It requires keen observation skills or a quick question that you can take and related back to your story. Our fast-food entrepreneur may say, Do you ever get frustrated when you take your kids out to eat? Me too. You need a great deal of conversational expertise to pull this off because it must be accomplished quickly, and the question you pose can’t come across as intrusive. The value of the touchpoint can’t be underestimated. People want to listen more if you establish common perspectives.

  3. Add Data.

    Data backs up the assertions with facts, reflect your intelligence and reveals the cogent thoughts behind the business plan. In a sentence, you can show the listener you didn’t just make up your business plan after being unable to sleep one night. You went out and researched your theories and found tangible proof there’s a need and desire for what you’re offering. It can include survey data, economic trends and related successes.

  4. Forecast the Good.

    With the data lending support, you can transition to your positive projections with more fact-based data. It should involve goals and benchmarks in terms of increasing your customer base, generating revenue, attracting investors and, ultimately, what the return you hope to deliver to those investors. However, don’t let the numbers waft about for too long. Circle back to over-arching goal, the purpose and passion of your business. Those sell more than the numbers.

  5. Extend at the End.

    At this point, your conversation may be winding down if it’s a 60-second pitch. You’ll have more to tell, so ask for a chance to extend the conversation at another time. This should include offers to schedule a meeting, email more information or an invitation to your site. If the person doesn’t agree to any of those opportunities, express the hope you will see them again, diligently try to hand them your business card and thank them for their time.

  6. Practice and Pay Attention.

    The University of South Florida Muma College of Business encourages its job-seeking students to constantly work on sharpening the focus of elevator pitches. This involves both rereading and rewriting your pitch, and practicing the pitch with friends and family, and even strangers. Practicing in the mirror is good, but practicing with others allows you to pay attention to what words, sentences and even mannerisms resonate, and what approaches fall flat. Body language is just as important as the words themselves in making a good pitch. The Muma College advises to watch for “confidence, timing, content, appearance and speech flow.” Good advice whether its a job pitch or an entrepreneurial story.

At Rising Tide Innovation Center, we have a passion for community, and our community can help lend the feedback and guidance you need. We’ve invested in this co-work space not out of necessity, but because building community excites and enriches us. We’re passionate about creating a community to help bring the dreams of entrepreneurs to fruition so together, we can revolutionize, disrupt and change the world.

That’s our pitch. Give us a chance to help perfect yours.

Ideas to finance your start-up

5 Financing Alternatives for Funding Your Start-Up

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Ideas to finance your start-upYou have a terrific idea, but how do you raise the capital to turn it into a viable business? It’s one of the biggest challenges facing entrepreneurs. Most very quickly discover traditional lenders like banks are reluctant to lend money to start-ups without a significant track record of success, an impeccable credit history, and money already in the bank. If you had that, you wouldn’t need to borrow money!

While a Small Business Administration loan (SBA) loan is backed by the government and, thus, preferred by lenders for small business borrowers, they aren’t usually easy to obtain.

If borrowing from a bank is out, then, what’s an intrepid entrepreneur to do? Here are five financing alternatives to get you started with funding your start-up.

  1. Credit Cards.

    Many new business owners turn first to their credit cards for financing. While not ideal, credit card financing does offer some advantages. First, unless you have a bad credit history, credit cards are easily accessible, so you can get cash fast. Also, you can spread out your debt over multiple cards. You also can play “interest rate roulette.” This is when you move your debt from card to card based on the interest rate. Of course, there are disadvantages to credit cards, to wit:

    1. High interest rates—in some cases 21 to 24%
    2. Very quickly getting into debt over your head
    3. If the business fails, you may be stuck with a pile of unsecured debt and no way to pay it back, which could leave you with ruined credit—and in bankruptcy. If you choose to use credit cards to finance your business, proceed with caution. Set a limit for how much you are willing to invest in your business in unsecured debt before you call it. Or maybe combine credit card debt with other capital sources, such as the next one on the list: side hustle.
  1. Side Hustle.

    Rather than tapping into existing resources such as your day job or your life savings or retirement funds to help you pay for your start up, consider taking on a side hustle such as freelancing work or a part-time job and using that money as investment capital for your new business venture. It’s not a glamorous approach, and it may take you longer to get where you want to go, but it’s a more conservative option.

    For instance, let’s say you want to own your own digital creative advertising agency. You might have a day job at an agency. If your employer permits, you could take on freelance graphic design work on the side, saving up that money for a year until you have enough to start your own business. The downside is you can’t tell your boss to take this job and shove it until you are sure you have enough saved. The upside is: when you do leave, you’ll have a decent-sized portfolio, a few clients of your own, and some seed money to get started.

  2. Friends and Relatives.

    Even though there’s an old adage about never doing business with friends and relatives, this is still a primary source of capital for many start-ups. There are a couple of ways to go about this. The first is to just borrow the money outright: “Mom, Dad, may I borrow $10,000 to open my new business?” The other is the ask several friends and relatives to invest in your business: they put in cash and, in exchange, they become “owners” of a percentage of the business just like any other investor.

    The advantages of borrowing from friends and relatives is that they usually love you and want to support you in your efforts. The disadvantage is if things do not go as anticipated, you could lose not only your money but theirs as well. This could seriously damage relationships. For example, let’s say your parents lend you money from their retirement account, and you to lose it all, while they might forgive you, you might never be able to forgive yourself. Think carefully before borrowing from friends and relatives. If you do borrow, do so only in small amounts, and make sure they only lend what they can afford to lose. Reiterate to them that a start-up is a risky business investment in which there are no guarantees. Also, just as with other investors, make sure every arrangement is in writing.

  3. Investors

    With the popularity of TV shows like Shark Tank, it seems like every start-up gets an opportunity at some point to pitch investors. That’s not usually the case, though. Angel investors and venture capitalists typically look for very specific types of companies in which to invest. Your business may or may not qualify for those types of opportunities. However, it’s always worth being on the lookout for pitch competitions in your industry.

    With this method of financing, founders usually give up ownership of some part of the business in exchange capital. Typically, start-ups seeking venture capital have prepared a strong business plan and a pitch that demonstrates how the money will be used and how the enterprise can become profitable. Investors will be looking for how much of their own time, money and effort the founders have already invested, and the viability of the business opportunity. The number one consideration: profitability. The prospective investors will want to know how quickly they can see a return on their investment and how much of a return they can expect to see.

  4. Borrow from Retirement/Equity.

    Borrowing from your own retirement accounts or against the equity in your home or other investments also are popular options for serious entrepreneurs who are “all-in” on their start-ups. The risk, again, is that if it doesn’t pan out, you’ve lost some serious investments. In Florida, your retirement account and home are protected from creditors in bankruptcy. The minute you borrow against them to invest in a business, however, you put these assets at risk. That said, if you are young enough (to recover if things go wrong), and your business idea is solid enough, it might be a better option to borrow from your own assets than to borrow from others.

So, when it comes to financing your start-up, what’s the right choice? That really depends on the time the type of business you’re opening, how long you think it will take to become profitable, what your goals are for your business, and your risk tolerance. Regardless, it’s important to consider all your options before making a decision.