Investing in the Community for the Small Business Owner

As a small business owner, investing in the community, where you do business, is a savvy move on your part. More importantly, it’s the right thing to do. These are your customers and an opportunity for you to show support, build friendly relationships and gain the trust of the people you’re doing business with. Certainly, as a successful business, your customers and clients see you as an important figure in the community.

However, to be an effective business leader, you need to know the social landscape, vibe and needs of your customers. This way you can invest wisely and become a part of the community that gives back.

First, giving back doesn’t always mean writing a check. I often talk about the importance of building relationships and investing in the community is no different. For example, you could connect one of your customers, who owns a plant nursery, with the township building a new community garden. That friend might be willing to donate various plants for this venture and it’s your direct involvement that connected the donor to the cause.

Second, I would recommend finding out which organizations your customers are interested in supporting. This could be a simple on-line questionnaire asking your customers “what’s the last charitable organization you donated money, food or clothing to?” Or you could ask, “When is your birthday?” In turn, use this information to make a donation to your customers’ favorite charity in honor of his/her birthday or to the causes they find most important to be involved with. Tweak the idea as you see fit.

Investing in the community is about building relationships that benefit its citizens. Sometimes it is writing a check and is a line item on your marketing budget. This strategy is known as public relations and is a part of any good business model.

Don’t be shy about your support of community causes. This strategy bears residuals, particularly in the Digital Age, when you connect with your customers online and can talk about the various causes you support.

While it’s a known fact that people do business with people they like, investing in the community, requires you connecting with your customers and the things they care about beyond a tax-deduction. It’s about broadening the scope of your business and raising awareness about the needs of the community you serve.

Finally, as a local business you might want to explore investing in a Community Supported Enterprise (CSE). CSE are businesses that derive funds from investment groups that loan money to support affordable housing, local businesses, community centers, and other enterprises that solve community needs. This is more philanthropic and localized in its approach but can serve as a real boost to your PR strategy.

Face-to-Face Networking For the Small Business Owner

You are at a networking event and a person walks into the room and you’re immediately drawn to them. Why? More than likely that person exudes a kind of charisma that gets them noticed. That’s Power! And when it comes to building relationships, as a small business owner, being able to adapt to any situation, especially ones of the social networking kind, more importantly, face-to-face, should be a part of your repertoire. Essentially, before the evening is over that person will have made a number of important connections that will serve them well.

 With that in mind, the power of face-to-face networking is vital to any successful business.  After all, there is power in numbers, the more people you know, the more customers you’ll attract, and the more your business will flourish. 

However, taking networking a step further, according to “The Elements of Power,” by Terry Bacon, there are eleven networking sources of power – five being personal – knowledge, expressiveness, history, attraction and character.  The remaining five fall under organizational – your role, resources, information, network/connections and reputation.   And the golden nugget is will power. Possessing passion and commitment that when hinged to energy and action, you can’t help but to be noticed.

Clearly, when it comes to face-to-face networking there’s a lot more involved than just showing up at an event and noshing, while engaged in mindless chatter.  There is an art to being an effective networker – someone people notice. No one can promote your business better than you, but you must be business savvy, influential, be an effective communicator and serve it up with charm.  

Okay, now that you’re armed with your networking power tools, you’re ready for your next event.  Once you arrive, first things first, lose your friends and don’t spend more time than what is necessary with any one person. Not unless that person is someone who can add real value to heighten your business’s altitude. Otherwise, you should be working the room making important connections, discovering new ideas and finding out what others are doing.

Be prepared to discuss what you do immediately and in short interesting sentences. No need to repeat yourself.

Most importantly, be friendly and say something funny.  A good joke is always a crowd pleaser and being friendly and approachable makes you more attractive to the listener.

One thing to keep in mind – networking is a two-way street – don’t be selfish, you always want to be a resource and connect someone to a contact that you might know that can help them.  This is important to remember and a good way to follow-up on a conversation you had with an important contact.  It is also a way to build trust among your business peers, and something people value. 

With no further adieu and with all that charisma, look who just walked into the room – YOU!

Branding Basics for the Small Business

Everybody’s fingerprints are different and unique to only you.  The same can be said about what it means to brand what you do.  More importantly, your brand is your unique stamp that identifies your product or service.  It gives you credibility in your specific marketplace, while providing your customer with what they want and need.  Building your brand starts with developing a reputation for delivering unquestionably good service or an exceptional product.  That alone builds a loyal customer base. However, no matter how good you are at what you do, there’s always the competition.  That’s why branding is essential in separating you from your competitors.

We’re all familiar with the Coca-Cola brand, right?  It’s ubiquitous and certainly has become a piece of Americana. But why does it stand out in our minds?  It’s recognizable.   From its shiny bright red can, crafty logo, to “It’s the Real Thing” slogan. These are all the elements that help to brand a product.

Okay, you’re a small business and don’t have the corporate finances to brand your product or service.  To the contrary, first and foremost you must think big, and you, too, can create the same enthusiasm and recognition around your business as Coca-Cola has done.

Where do you begin?  Let’s start with the basics. One key concept to remember is branding your small business is about creating an image for your products or services.  Consider what do you want people to remember about your products/service?

You must be consistent and repetitious in using the same colors, and placing logo and slogan on everything you do.

However, if you’re not of the creative ilk, you’ll need to hire a professional graphic designer.  Trust me, it will be well worth the investment.

Nothing turns people off more than poor quality collateral, be it home made flyers or lackluster packaging.  You need to present a professional polished look.  All customer facing materials should reflect the same quality that has garnered your product or service a good reputation. 

You certainly want to make sure your brand is seen everywhere. How do you do that?  You can have your logo embossed on everything from buttons and pens to calendars or bottles of water.  Then get these items in the hands of everyone you meet.  You can purchase these items in bulk at a low cost and the return will far outweigh what you spent.

Next make sure your digital identity reflects your brand.  Your logo, brand colors, slogan and other brand assets should be reflected on your web site and social media accounts.

Use your brand on everything you do and mirror that on your digital collateral, such as e-blasts and email campaigns.

I leave you with this: branding is not about getting your target audience to choose you over others, but to get them to recognize you instantly and as a source for providing them with what they want and need.

PR Basics for the Small Business, Getting Social Isn’t So Overwhelming

No doubt about it, word of mouth is still the best public relations tool going. However, the millennial advancements of social media and the web are by far the best bang for your buck when crafting a PR plan. PR stands for Public Relations and as a small business owner if you’re not engaging in social media or using the many free to low-cost services offered on the web, you’re doing yourself a terrible disservice. There are truly a multitude of easy do-it-yourself PR tools available. First, you can promote your business starting with your local newspaper. Nowadays, most people read their news online and business owners have many options to use on-line media outlets including posting events, photos, or videos in the Events section. Most on-line news outlets offer this service free of charge. And when your content is posted, you or your customers can share it using social media. You could also write your own news articles and many local news website will post your story with links to social media (so the reader can comment or share). Second, depending on your type of business, it is wise to explore which social media platform is best for your business. To keep your brand in the spotlight, you can use a variety of #hash tags (formerly known as the pound-sign) that are “trending” in your business world. Also, Twitter is snappy, fast-paced and with rapid-fire responses it can gain you a lot of attention. However, a Facebook page is the most practical way to interface with customers. You can use #hash tags in Facebook, which has so many features that many businesses are using it to serve as their web page rather than owning a separate web site. And not being on Facebook is like not being in the Yellow Pages back in the day. Third, there’s power in personal networking. In the age of social media networking, don’t lose sight of mastering the art of working a room. U.S. News and World Report Money suggest personal networking as an opportunity for you to sell yourself in a genuine way that leaves a lasting impression. With this in mind, join an online “Meet-Up” group specific to your area of business. From personal to professional, at, groups are located in over 45,000 cities spread across the United States and have attracted over 15 million people. Joining a Meet Up group that caters to your line of business is a great way to grow your customer base because you can connect with like-minded people. Finally, another PR marketing tool to keep your customers engaged is to use an email service that also promotes social media engagement, such as Constant Contact, I-Contact, or Vertical Response. Many offer free do-it-yourself eBlast templates that allow small business owners to use their brand assets. If your customer list grows, you might incur a nominal fee (i.e. $19.00 per 1,000 emails) but it is worth it to connect directly with your customers. The rewards are plentiful when you gain sales or your customers recognize your brand and share it with their circle of friends and colleagues. Using these services, you can regularly offer specials or launch new products, and all of them offer options to link to your social media accounts. Customers, who receive your eBlast, may “get social” and share it. When thinking about PR, keep in mind the power of social media and web-based promotions is something to consistently include in your marketing planning.

In February 2014, Cortez was appointed to the Board of Trustees of William Paterson University in Wayne, NJ. She also serves on the boards of the Workforce Investment Board of Passaic County, and Visions Academy Charter School in Newark, and as President of the Board of the Boys and Girls Club of Paterson and Passaic. Cortez is the chairperson for the North Jersey Federal Credit Union Foundation and assistant treasurer for Executive Women of NJ. She has volunteered for numerous organizations including La Casa De Don Pedro, the March of Dimes, Eva’s Village in Paterson and the American Cancer Society. As the first Latina CEO of a credit union in New Jersey, Cortez has been honored by NJ Biz magazine, which named her one of the “Best 50 Women in Business” in New Jersey. Other awards include: the North Jersey Regional Chamber of Commerce, 2010 Star Award in Business, the 2010 Salute to the Policy Makers Award from Executive Women of NJ, and the 2012 Women of Achievement Award from the Girl Scouts of Northern New Jersey.

The Trust Factor + Creative Innovation = Successful Collaborations

The most cost effective way to grow your business, and increase your customer base and purchasing power is to form business alliances. Small business collaborations can be the altruistic recipe that makes good business sense and yields profits. Brand giants like MetLife, Simon & Schuster, Abercrombie & Fitch and Colgate-Palmolive suggests that.  The successes of these longtime business entities were initially gleamed from the ideas of individuals wanting to produce a reputable product and making that product memorable and easily recognizable.  These businesses also recognized their own weaknesses and need for mutually beneficial partnerships.

Therefore, one of the most important factors in forming a successful business alliance is to want the same basic outcome as your potential partner.  How you choose to arrive at that outcome could be totally different, but is almost always mutually beneficial. However, that’s when the second important factor emerges – trust.   When you can recognize in your business partner, or business collaboration, their strengths and how that balances out your weaknesses, you then learn to trust one another’s opinion, with mutual respect, in making strategic business decisions.

As a matter of fact, Warren Buffet, revered for his business acumen and wealth, had this to say about the trust factor in a Huffington Post article. “That comfort comes from a complete lack of envy in a partnership. Partners must value trust, they must discover how to keep their ego in check, and they must put a premium on not just brains, but human decency.” 

I say, well said Mr. Buffet! That old adage, two heads are better than one, rings true here.

Clearly, when creative innovation is factored into the collaboration mix, the leap from small business to big business has great potential. 

Locally, such is the case of Curl Prep Natural Hair Solutions. This small home-based business located in East Orange, New Jersey, specializing in a line of natural hair care products, partnered with Whole Foods Market and now the line is sold in select stores throughout the state. 

Curl Prep’s founder, Candace Kelley, recognized how Whole Foods prides itself in promoting natural and organic products and supporting local entrepreneurs.  This example shows us that no matter how small your business, recognizing mutually beneficial partnership opportunities are key functions of any good entrepreneur.

Also, putting a new spin on competition and partnership is Bob Mudge, whose article in Leadership Now, takes small business partnering to another level.  Mudge suggests, “cooperating with your competitors might have been counterintuitive years ago, but today it’s a necessity for a successful business.” Meaning sometimes its takes a few businesses to penetrate a market and become successful or partnering your small business with a larger competitor could launch you into the next level.

With that said, it is important to understand that a successful business partnership is like a successful marriage, it takes hard work, trust and creative innovation.  Take the time to look at your weaknesses and find ways to partner with those who can benefit your business.

Small Business Counseling and Mentoring Has Its Rewards

We all can benefit from good sound advice, especially when it comes to owning and operating a business. According to Bloomberg, it is a fact that 80 percent of businesses don’t survive the first 18 months. Simply put, they run out of cash.  With all that you’ve invested in opening a business, why would you not want to do all that you can to insure its success?

The beauty of living in America is that entrepreneurship is at the heart of a thriving economy. That dream of you owning your own business really does matter in more ways than one.  However, to realize the best return on your investment, my advice to entrepreneurs, as well as seasoned business owners is to seek small business counseling.

For starters, small business counseling is where you can get all your questions answered. The United States Small Business Administration (SBA) is the safety net for helping business owners get through the process of opening, establishing and expanding businesses.  By linking with the SBA, all your business needs are  met for FREE!  So what are you waiting for?

Go today to the closest Small Business Development Center (SBDC).  There you’ll find one-stop business shopping through a number of small business counseling programs that the SBA has developed with the small business owner in mind.

  The SBA, working in conjunction with SCORE’s “Counselors to America’s Small Business,” will advise you on everything from developing a sound business plan to credit counseling and more.

It’s as simple as going online and getting your questions answered at, or accessing one-on-one mentoring. SCORE also provides online workshops and webinars. 

Indeed, you will be surprised by the number of resourceful programs that can aid you in making the right business decisions.  These tried and tested programs, include the Business Ownership and Entrepreneur Education program as well as the Small Business Training Network. Once enrolled, you will be better armed with information to help you avoid becoming a statistic of that 80% failure rate.

Many business owners don’t know their own shortcomings. You might think your idea is great, but that idea may have come and gone. It could be a declining market for the business you are in.  With the rapid advance of technology your idea might need to be refashioned.  That’s where small business counseling is effective. The counselors are knowledgeable of such trends and will advise you accordingly.

Small business counseling can also assist with helping you grow your business.  Or, if you’re a woman, the SBDC can direct you to the Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) that can lead you to grant funding that is specific to women in business.  With more women joining the entrepreneur ranks, the WBCs were developed to give women equal opportunities in the world of business.

Certainly, your business is your baby. There is nothing more painstaking than opening a business, but there is nothing more gratifying than watching your business flourish. Owning a business has many rewards and making it successful will most certainly give you a sense of pride.

 Always remember good advice can go a long way!

Growing Your Small Business in the Age of Digital Marketing


Growing your small business in the age of digital marketing is right at the end of your fingertips.  Social media and digital products have revolutionized advertising and that’s a good thing for the small business owner whose ad dollars are limited. 

            The key is making sure your business is social.  That means interacting regularly with your customer base and introducing your brand to potential clients, through specific channels that targets your audience. 

Certainly, it’s all about the number of connections made, more importantly, when it comes to growing your business, it’s better to narrow the field of social media platforms.  Having 5,000 connections has its benefits, but aim to choose a platform or two, perhaps even three, that rightly suits your services or what you’re selling. 

Digital marketing is an essential tool in developing customer relationships and is a way to maintain existing relationships.  Consider an email marketing campaign by creating an account with one of the many popular email services (i.e. Vertical Response or Constant Contact).  Using a professional email service allows you to communicate directly to your client base while also being able to personalize your message.  

A creative approach that makes your marketing campaign stand out is the way to go.  For example, a motivational speaker can create a clever tagline like, “Life is like photography we develop from the negatives,” and a great tag line is something that will stand out to potential clients and give your customers something to remember you by. 

The point is in today’s economy small businesses must participate in digital marketing.  Using the various digital platforms, including email services, social media and websites, all add up to help you keep returning customers and find new customers.   

Keep in mind, connecting to the right social media is important. Perhaps your business is photography, then Instagram, where you can share compelling images tag others and attract followers, may be the appropriate social media platform for you, along with a savvy photo gallery website.  Couple that with an email marketing campaign specific to new referrals about various packages you offer to clients, will help you reap the rewards from having developed a social media platform that works for you. 

            A recent report by Brittany Farb published in CRM Magazine said, “Digital strategies like social media will influence at least 80 percent of consumers discretionary spending by 2015,” based on data.  Being linked in and globally connected is paying off. 

            Also, the practicality of marketing in the digital age renders instant results.  You can gauge and track the activity of one marketing campaign from another to see how many customers opened your announcement and how many clicked onto a link you provided.  Other social media platforms will provide you with certain demographics that give you useful insight to help identify the concentrated areas of your customer base.   You now have a measureable idea of what’s trending in targeted areas.  Instant information gives you an edge to creating campaigns that work and drive potential clients to your Facebook page, blog or website.   

            I conclude with a question:  Are you one of those business owners perplexed by social media?  My advice would be to hire an intern and keep it moving!



Fire Hazard Fears Prompt Recall of USB Car Charger Adapters

Some popular mini USB car charger power adapters, universal USB power adapters and 8-pin USB data sync charging cables are being recalled due to a hazard of fire from their use, according to The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

A company called Popkiller sold the recalled devices – mostly in stores in Southern California. The items were made by Shenzhen Qiwei Electronic Co., Ltd., Guangdong, China, and have some unique identifying characteristics:

According to the company, the car charger has model number HHT-001 located on the flat side of the charger below the USB port. The charger measures two inches tall and one inch in diameter at its widest point.

The Universal USB Power adapter has model number A1265 printed directly above the plug blades on the grey surface. The adapter measures 1.5 inches at its longest point and one inch wide.

There is no model number printed on the 8-pin USB charging cables.

All of the recalled products are sold separately and come in the colors red, orange, green, blue, purple and pink.

The recall involves around 2,500 units. Concerned consumers can call Popkiller toll-free at (888) 345-0724 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. PT Monday through Friday.

People can also reach the company online at Click on “About Us” located at the bottom of the home page, then click “Important Recall Notice” for more information.


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Online Buying vs. “Touch and Feel” Retailing

A new survey finds that Americans are fine with buying online, but still value the in-person shopping experience.

Polling firm Harris said it surveyed 2,241 adults last month, in an effort to gauge how the growth of online retailing is changing the way Americans view the shopping experience.

According to Harris, most Americans are taking advantage of online buying convenience — with majorities saying they’ve bought clothing (69%), digital content (59%), and accessories (54%) online.

Online shopping enthusiasm increases as the age of those polled decreases, with Millennials being the most likely to have made purchases online in most of the product categories Harris tested.

However, traditional shopping is far from dead: a whopping 78% of Americans polled by Harris still prefer to buy their food in person, while large majorities prefer to buy such things as over-the-counter-medications (67%), clothing (65%), prescription medications (58%), cosmetics (57%), specialty food and household electronics (55%) the “old fashioned” way.

While Harris found that the personal electronics category showed strong online shopping preference, more Americans still said they prefer to buy these items in person (43%) vs. online (22%).

The online environment is certainly a great place to research products — and offers a convenient way to buy them — but many people still want to handle the goods before pulling the trigger on a purchase.


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Some Investors Pulling Out of U.S. Equity Mutual Funds

New data shows that investors withdrew $8.3 billion from U.S. equity mutual funds in June, making it the second consecutive month in which outflows outpaced inflows to these funds.

The funds — which allow investors to buy into a “basket” of stocks picked and traded by a fund manager – are traditionally a popular option for people to invest retirement savings.

However, investment research Morningstar found that the withdrawals during June represented U.S. equity funds’ largest outflow in 18 months.

Morningstar said that inflows to international-equity funds and taxable-bond funds more than offset the outflows for U.S. equity funds. Overall, inflows to long-term mutual funds reached $24.0 billion during the month.

Mutual fund assets reached $11.7 trillion in June, which Morningstar said represents an increase of more than 40% since their peak before the financial crisis.

Clearly, this form of investing is still quite popular.


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