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Women’s Entrepreneurship Day: How to Finance Your First Business

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Every woman and girl should have the opportunity to follow their dreams. Because women do 66% of the world’s work – yet earn 10% of the world’s income – helping women entrepreneurs get their businesses up and running is an important step towards making this goal a reality.

Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, founded by Wendy Diamond, is global “educational event” aimed at educating businesswomen in the ways they can empower one another financially, thus improving the likelihood of their long-term success.

Today there are an estimated 11.3 million women-owned businesses in the United States, according to The State of Women-Owned Businesses 2016 report from American Express OPEN and Womenable. Generating over $1.6 trillion in revenue, these ventures drive economic activity and improve employment in their communities. 

If you’re hoping to join this ever-growing group of entrepreneurs, one of the first considerations you’ll likely have to make is how you’re going to fund your new business – in good times and in bad. Here are seven helpful tips to get you started.

  1. Take Ownership of Your Credit

Whether you’ve been building your credit for a while or you simply are starting with no credit, it’s a good idea to know where you stand before applying for a loan, your first credit card or seeking any other kind of financing.

“Many women forget about their credit scores, particularly if they are married or sharing a bank account,” Meredith Wood, vice president of content for Fundera, a free site for finding small business loans, said. “Make sure you own your credit so that you can apply for capital.”

  1. Don’t Fear Asking for Help

“Don’t be afraid to ask — for help, for funding, for free stuff,” Alex Niemczewski, CEO of BallotReady, an online voter guide, said. “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.”

Niemczewski said it’s a good idea to start talking with potential investors early, “even if you’re still in the idea stage. The earlier you are, the less you have thought through everything, but that’s okay. Potential investors are incredible sources of advice and connections.”

You don’t just have to be asking for something — it’s good to remember that it’s okay to simply be asking for a fresh perspective from someone you trust. “Sometimes it helps to seek another opinion,” Wood said. “You need to understand how your offers compare before making a decision.”

  1. Use Resources Designed Just for You

There are programs dedicated to women in your exact situation, like those offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), where you can also turn for guidance or answers to your questions.

These WBCs, as we call them, offer women entrepreneurs, especially those who are economically or socially disadvantaged, comprehensive training and counseling on a vast array of topics, such as financing, marketing, federal contracting, international trade and manufacturing,” Andrea Roebker, regional communications director for the SBA, said.

  1. Start Small

“My advice to all women entrepreneurs is to think lean when figuring out your finances,” said Lauren Milligan, a career coach in Chicago. “Can you work from your home office rather than paying rent? Can you outsource to freelancers rather than bringing on an employee? Can you use interns rather than outsourcing business functions to expensive vendors?”

All the business plans in the world cannot predict the challenges that lie ahead – don’t quit your day job right away, and don’t bite off more than you can chew. By trying it first on a small scale, you allow yourself both the room and the time to build credible, trustworthy relationships.

  1. Know What’s Essential

“Resist the temptation to spend your seed money on furniture and stationery,” said Angelique Pivoine, CEO of Good Thinking Agency, a company that helps freelancers and small businesses draw media attention. “I really recommend that you make a list of essential expenses and fees to start a business and keep it afloat for six months before spending money on a new chair or potted plants.”

Milligan also suggested that you “look at every expense you have and see how you can chip away at it, so that you don’t have to take on unnecessary debt.”

  1. Consider Angel Investors

“Women starting a company should be aware that there are more and more female-led, angel investors who are seeking great concepts and experienced leaders,” Stephanie Sprangers, CEO and founder of Glamhive, a fashion app, said. “You’ll want to find early-stage angel investors who are open to investing in pre-revenue and even pre-tech build companies. These angel investors provide capital, advice and connections.” She recommends looking for them by searching for “angel investor” on sites like LinkedIn.

  1. Look at Other Financing Options

“Do your research about grants for women entrepreneurs, small loans, credit cards — a wealth of options exist online if you’re denied by banks,” Wood said.

Pivoine also suggested finding a “trustworthy partner or investor” to help you fund your business. “I recommend, though, that you iron out the details of the partnership beforehand, [including] how much percentage of the business each partner has, how long until the partner who provided the cash recuperates their investment cost, etc.”

On Women’s Entrepreneurship Day and every day, it’s important to recognize the contributions being made to society by women-led businesses as well as the challenges that still lie ahead. Strong, empowered women in business are crucial catalysts for positive change both within their communities and the wider world. As we look forward to this event, remember your own dreams – and then lay a plan to start putting them to action.

Brooke Niemeyer is a reporter and editor for Credit.com. She writes about a variety of personal finance topics, with work featured on CBS, TIME, The Huffington Post, Yahoo! Finance, MSN, and others. She has a Master’s degree in Journalism from New York University and was a reporter for NBC before joining the Credit.com team. You can follow her @RNYBrooke

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How to Grow Your Nonprofit With Little Budget

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It should come as no surprise that devoting time to a cause can be fulfilling. When you start one of your own, you will transform your life.

But establishing a nonprofit to take up said crusade comes with lots of barriers, namely financial. Traditional businesses often must figure out where the money will come from to make their vision a reality, and nonprofits are no different.

For nonprofit leaders with know-how and ideas but scarce financial capital, it’s an uphill battle. But it’s those who recognize their new nonprofits’ non-monetary value and how to translate that into viability who can bring those causes to fruition.

A Little Marketing Goes a Long Way

What nonprofits lack in budget, they more than make up for in positioning and branding. Organizations can mask their financial shortcomings by properly marketing each themselves and spotlighting who they are and what they can do.

That starts with communicating your purpose or company “brand.” Identifying your brand lets people know who you are and what you can do for others, which can go a long way in creating long-term relationships. From there, you want to avoid potential conflicts of interest or even the appearance of one: As owner, officer, or director, you should never personally profit from any transaction with your organization.

Once you’ve settled those things, you can market your nonprofit to its fullest potential. The next step is to take those attributes to events and platforms that feature opportunities to rub elbows with financiers with values similar to your own.

For nonprofits with limited funds, I suggest looking to corporations to sponsor a campaign. Dress for Success, for example, held a “clean your closet week” by asking professionals to donate clothing, and the campaign generated $400,000.

And when you find an actual sponsor, it can be a useful way to find other organizations that align with your mission. Let’s say you connect with a corporation known to work with homeless youth. It’ll have relationships with many other corporations that work with this same service sector, which can establish a ripple effect.

Do Good on a Discount

Outside of knowing how to sell your cause, the following tips are useful to help your growing nonprofit continue to scale:

1. Think intangible. When you’re on a tight budget and don’t have money to involve your nonprofit in initiatives requiring a cash investment, start off by marketing non-financial resources, such as your time and industry knowledge.

Not only will it provide your organization some much-needed exposure, but it’ll also give you and your other teammates a better idea of the work involved and a brief overview of your chosen nonprofit sector. Plus, it’s not a bad way to make connections.

2. Give in to the youth movement. Look for volunteers at area high schools. Talk with the local school councils and ask whether it’d be possible to create a partnership that would allow teens to volunteer for a school credit or as an extracurricular activity.

Position the volunteer opportunity as a way for teenagers to prepare for the future. After all, volunteering improves not just communities, but also participants’ social and communication skills. In fact, they often reap better advantages at college and on down the line.

3. See how the pros do it. Follow the activities of larger nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations. Check with international organizations like the United Nations; you may find opportunities for involvement and gain access to their funding pool.

Take NeedsList, for example. The online platform was created to help small grassroots groups connect with NGOs across the world in need of shoes, SD cards, and other supplies. Donors can choose to donate goods, money, or time, which brings us full circle.

As the adage goes, it’s not what you know but whom. No other sector exemplifies this more than nonprofit. For foundations on a shoestring budget, make connections, think about what you have to offer, and deliver on your purpose each step of the way. Then, you can let your personal transformation begin.

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Social Good Doesn’t Require a Non-Profit

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You want your business to be a force for social good. Most importantly, you want to meet the needs of some target population with the warmth and care reminiscent of the most nurturing presence as opposed to a cold, heartless corporation. You believe your only option to be registration of your business as a non-profit. Chrystalyn Reid of non-profit Queen Esther Ministry states that she didn’t consider anything other than a non-profit, “Because I wanted to help people without worrying about a profit-making business.”

Social Good Dreams

Other options exist, but I want to first challenge your start-up launch with several organizing questions:

Are you under the impression that non-profits always have low budgets and low pay for employees? The average non-profit CEO makes between $97,000 and $123,462. Seventy-six of 4,587 charities pay their CEOs more than $500,000 per year in compensation. Seventy of those have an annual budget above $13.5 million.

Have you created an Outcome Logic Model for your social good business identifying the revenue streams that are possible within the business operations? The typical non-profit today makes only 21% of its revenue from donations. Over 72% comes from program service revenues which include government contracts. Many of those contracts are open to non-profits and for-profits alike.

Have you considered how your board and funding structure will impact the mission of your social good business? You may have heard recent public broadcasting stories about mission drift or mission creep. You will want to ensure that your business bylaws are written to guard the mission.

Another Option: B Corp

A B Corp is an organization founded for social good. According to the B-Corp website, B Corps “meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability, and aspire to use the power of markets to solve social and environmental problems.” Over 2,221 B Corporations are now certified from over 50 countries and 130 industries.

The choice of a B Corp structure over a non-profit structure for many is a question of funding. They choose non-profit proposing to fund the business through grants. A non-profit is the choice for those who want to provide a tax write-off to their donors and want to be eligible for grants that specify that only 501c3 corporations may apply. Yet, that explanation is a premature determination about how your corporation can make money. More specifically, if you conclude that your social good company can ONLY make money through donations from donors who require a tax write-off,

More specifically, if you conclude that your social good company can ONLY make money through donations from donors who require a tax write-off, non-profit is your only option. On the other hand, you can create value beyond the tax write-off. You may develop revenue streams other than grants. You could have a non-profit partner organization. In these cases, you may consider starting a for-profit with B Corp certification instead.

Mission Creep & Creepy Mission

Many launch non-profits because they believe that the money is not as important as the difference they can make. They focus on the people that they will help, the social good proposition, and the lives that will be changed rather than the bottom line. “My mission was never to make money. It was something that God called me to, to make a difference for women aging out of the foster care system,” Reid says about her non-profit.

This often means that these social entrepreneurs also neglect to focus on sustainability. Therefore, Marvin Olasky can tell the story in Renewing American Compassion of the multi-million-dollar social welfare building with few visitors. He compared this to a beloved, yet poorly funded child services non-profit. The non-profit operated with client numbers above its capacity.

Social workers and others working for social good are coming to grips with the fallacy of money as a dirty word (or after thought). They are also redefining their business models to avoid mission creep. They diversify offerings to access additional revenue streams without overextending the mission. The innovative method involves building programs for sustainability as well as mission achievement. They couple a profit mechanism within the service provision mix as the social good business model. The result are programs that support themselves.

Mental health agencies have been doing a version of this at the insistence of managed care organizations—billing for specific services. The difference in more recent innovations is to go beyond the billable scope of practice. Include a more holistic service cadre for clients. Those extended services, formerly out of scope, are funded through private donations, fundraisers, and now sales of manuals, merchandising, or sponsorship agreements.

The take away is that profits are not the enemy of social good. Failure to meet the mission is. As Reid of Queen Esther Ministry confirms, “As I’ve learned more about my business, I know the value of diversifying my revenue streams in addition to honoring my mission. I’m now exploring other revenue ventures through my business like holding a Summer camp.”

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Why 2017 Is the Year to Join Instagram

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Did you know that by the end of 2017 around 70.7% of all brands are expected to have a profile on Instagram, or that businesses who have utilized their post boosting advertising options have been successful in 70% of cases?

A new report looks at these stats and a lot of other interesting data, which suggests 2017 is the year your business should join the popular social network.

A Large and Engaged User-Base

To have success in your marketing campaigns you must be able to get consumers invested in your products or services by creating an emotional response. Interacting with your target audience is the only way you can build their trust and accomplish this goal. This is where Instagram becomes such a powerful tool.

The platform is growing at a fast rate with over 300 million users logging on every single day. These users make an average of 95 million posts, which generate 4.2 billion likes!

The 18 to 30 demographic (the holy grail for a lot of businesses) accounts for 55% of Instagram’s users in the United States.

Furthermore, around 50% of all users follow at least one business’s account.

If you want access to consumers, Instagram offers a direct link which an audience broad enough to benefit any business large or small. Where the network really stands out, however, is its ability to engage users like no other.

Despite having far more active users every day, Facebook, for example, is not able to generate the same rate of likes, shares, and comments on posts. This is because Instagram focuses mainly on visual content, including photos, video clips, live streaming, and stories that expire after 24 hours.

Visual content is simply much more eye-catching and requires less mental attention than walls of text. The savvy marketer who can post professional shots of products, add value with informative videos, and craft a friendly and accessible brand image by showing the inner culture of the business – is almost certain to boost conversions and sales.

The Right Approach

Of course, accomplishing this is easier said than done. Fortunately, the infographic also gives us some insight to get you on the right track.

Building trust requires you to tread a fine line between over-selling and under-selling. Top brands post on average 4.9 times a week, so it’s wise to follow a similar pattern.

You must also remember to post at the most opportune times. Business accounts offer all sorts of analytics, so over time, you can narrow down what time is the best for your individual target audience. However, in general, the most users are active on Wednesdays at 5 pm. For newcomers, this would be a good time to post your most important content.

The data also explores the most popular emojis and hashtags, which can also be important when targeting your audience and getting them engaged.

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