What Your Lawyer Doesn’t Realize Could Hurt Your Business

Lawyers are busy, harried folks who often rely on state sanctioned boilerplates when it comes to the agreements used by many of us SDMWVLGBTBEs (Small Disadvantaged or Disabled, Minority, Women, Veteran, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered Business Enterprises) owners. Not all lawyers specialize in business law, and even those that do may not be familiar with regulations on state or federal certifications.  Sometimes, we even think we’ll save time and money by going through a legal advice web site to quickly form a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or partnership. Unfortunately, using standard forms can be the cause of significant problems when an SDMWVLGBT business enterprise applies for certification or submits revised agreements during an annual review.

Certification of SDMWVLGBT business enterprises generally requires that the business:

  • Be 51% owned and operated by U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents who are minority group members; (individuals who are at least one quarter or 25 percent: Asian-Indian, Asian-Pacific, Black, Hispanic or Native American; and/or are women; and/or members of the veteran, LGBT or PWD [Person With Disabilities] communities);
  • The minority owner or owners must be responsible for management of and control the daily operations of the business;
  • Be physically located in the United States or one of its territories;
  • Be for-profit

Long ago we talked about the issues of control and governance. Essentially, governance refers to the language in a business’s organizing documents that regulates its organizational management. Control, on the other hand, means that the diverse owner(s) has the authority and power to direct, determine or influence what happens in the business today and in the future.

So how can boilerplate language interfere with a business’s ability to get certified?

  • If you have a one person sole proprietorship, LLC or corporation there’s nothing wrong  with using the word unanimous to define a voting agreement’s terms. But, if you have 51%  diverse ownership in an LLC or partnership then this language would effectively restrict your ability to govern your company. In fact, if the business involves a 51/49 split between diverse and non-diverse owner(s), a simple majority of 51% is all that should be required.
  • If you’ve been in business for awhile and want to expand your business by bringing a new member into your existing LLC or partnership, be sure to review the new partnership or operating agreement carefully.  Make certain that the new agreement doesn’t accidentally change the diverse owner(s): position in terms of the most senior, or highest title; right to make final decisions (or manage those who might make other binding decisions); right to approve or accept new members/shareholders; or, right to determine the direction of the business. An inadvertent change could cause concerns with certifying agencies.  If you are a C-corporation selling stock, you’ll want your accountant and attorney to make sure that a sale of additional stock will not dilute the percentage of diverse business ownership.
  • Many businesses have bylaws, typical in Corporations and LLCs, and its definition of a quorum can be critical.  When we were applying for an out-of-state certification, we were asked to clarify our voting procedures, because one certifying agency believed our majority stock owner could be out-voted. So, our bylaws were re-written in 2015 to clearly define a quorum as a majority of shareholders, and that each share of stock is equal to a single vote.  We are a WBE,  82% owned and operated by women  — since our primary owner holds the most stock, she can’t be out-voted.
  • LLCs and Corporations have formal stock or share certificates issued to the share owners, and a ledger that tracks ownership of the shares.  Some companies have written shareholder agreements, and these agreements should reflect control by the diverse owner(s).  Simple majority – one share equals one vote – agreements might be the best option to discuss with legal representation.  And, your attorney can help you acquire the ledger materials and advise you how to keep them current.
  • If there’s a buy/sell agreement between the owners of the business, the language in that agreement should be clear about the diverse owner(s) rights to authorize the sale of any portion of the company. S/he or they, should retain the exclusive right to approve new owners.
  • It may seem odd that single owner LLCs require an operating agreement, but all certifiers require a copy of the operating agreement no matter how many LLC owners  or members there might be.
  • If the company has loans from its owners, make sure your attorney drafts a loan agreement that details repayment terms and interest charges.  If the loan is from a non-diverse owner, ask your lawyer to include language that the person making the loan does not garner any additional control that is already established by the organizing documents or shareholder agreements.
  • When there are multiple owners, your attorney should be cognizant of how any board of directors, managing partners or executive management positions are described in organizing documents. It is generally expected that the diverse owner will hold the highest titles, such as: Chief Executive Officer (CEO); Managing Partner; Chairperson; etc. If multiple diverse owners are involved, talk with your attorney about which owner should have the higher title … taking into consideration the skills and experience of the individuals and the responsibilities of the role being filled.
  • Contributions in starting a business can be very important if there is more than one owner. If it is a 51/49% situation, the 51% owner’s contribution should be at least 51%. Not all start-up contributions have to be cash. An owner can contribute physical assets (e.g. equipment, vehicles, software, etc.), experience or expert knowledge or real estate.

Larger or older business entities may have changed how they operate, without changing their documentation.  Before applying for certification, it is a good idea to review all of these documents to make sure they adequately reflect the diverse ownership.  Part of the review should include verifying that there are no random clauses that infringe on the diverse owner’s rights to govern and control the business.

Don’t think that single owner LLCs and sole proprietorships are the only way to go.  They might be easiest to structure, but multiple owner LLCs, joint ventures, partnerships or C-corporations can be certified.  Choose an attorney familiar with a knowledge of business law and clearly communicate your certification goals. Then make sure s/he is aware of the governance and control issues that influence whether you and your business can become SDMWVLGBTBE certified.

Posted in Business Implications, FYI, Our Humble Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Small Business Supplier Diversity

Certified small DMWVLGBTBEs (Disadvantaged or Disabled, Minority, Women, Veteran, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered Business Enterprises) reap the benefits of the diversity spend goals set by government agencies and large corporations. These organizations understand the compelling business case for diversity and inclusion.  A couple years ago, we wrote several posts based on the book The Inclusion Dividend: Why Investing in Diversity and Inclusion Pays Off by Mark Kaplan and Mason Donovan.  It is a well written commentary about the history and contemporary aspects of diversity and inclusion (DI) from a human resources and organizational perspective; and, it details how diversity inclusion can impact a large organization’s bottom line. 

But why just large organizations?  We think SDMWVLGBTEs should seriously consider establishing our own supplier diversity plans.  We have one because we believe that supplier diversity gives our organization an excellent foundation for providing support to our clients.  We are proud to be a certified small, women-owned and operated company and of our strategic alliances with other SDMWVLGBTBEs.  Our plan defines strategies and tactics to increase our base of diverse suppliers.  It establishes key metrics to be measured and reported semi-annually to our Board of Directors and includes guidelines for both traditional and irregular purchases for goods and services in excess of $1500.

We do mostly state contracting (and sub-contracting, too).  For every proposal we write, we enlist at least one SDMWVLGBTBE partner, usually from the state in which we’re bidding — whether the requesting agency has diversity spend goals or not.  It’s another way we “practice what we preach”.

What can you do?

You can start by creating your own supplier diversity plan. Not ready to take that step yet?  Make links on your web site for potential diverse suppliers, describing the goods and services that you routinely acquire and give them an opportunity to learn how to sell to you. Think about publishing news items about the diverse suppliers your currently do business with.

There are four 3rd party certifying organizations that you could consider sponsoring at some level.  Each of these groups has a slightly different missions, certifying businesses and their owners based upon certain criteria.  You can find out more about them at their websites: www.WBENC.org (women); www.NMSDC.org (minority and/or minority women); www.USBLN.org (people with disabilities); and www.NGLCC.org (LGBT).

Looking for diverse supplier to fill a particular need? If you’re certified by or a sponsor of one of these organizations you have access to their directory where you can search for suppliers based on your need. If you’re not, go to your state’s DBE Directory listing — there you’ll find both minority and women owned businesses who meet the eligibility criteria for the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise certification.

Posted in Current Events, FYI, Helpful Hints, Our Humble Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

You Should Get Certified!

If you’re a DMWVLGBTBE (Disadvantaged or Disabled, Minority, Women, Veteran, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered Business Enterprise), particularly if you’re a small business, you’ve probably heard that advice. We’ve talked about having a strategy when it comes to selecting the certifications that are right for your business, but just jumping right into filling out a certification application can lead to delays in the process if you haven’t carefully looked at the certifier’s eligibility requirements and your supporting documentation.

Say you’re a Connecticut based business interested in getting certified by the State of New York because you’ve heard about their 30% MWBE (minority-and-women-owned enterprises) state contracting utilization goal. Before being eligible to apply for certification in New York as an out-of-state firm there are a few steps you’ll need to take:

  1. Your firm must be Home-State certified; in this case a business would need to hold either an S/MBE certification from Connecticut’s Administrative Services Office of Supplier Diversity or a DBE certification from Connecticut’s DOT Unified Certification Program (UCP).
  2. You must go to the New York Department of State’s web site and apply for the Authority to do Business within New York.
    1. If you do not have someone to act as your agent within the state you’ll need to engage a registered agent service to perform this function.
    2. You’ll also need to provide the New York Department of State with one of the following: Certificate of Existence, Certificate of Good Standing or Certificate of Status from your Home-State.

If you have not taken these steps before applying for certification with the State of New York they will deem you ineligible for certification.

Note: Almost all states require out-of-state firms to be Home-State certified to be eligible for certification, while there are a limited number of states that require out-of-state firms to register for the authority to transact business within them as an eligibility requirement. Registering your business with a state may make you responsible for yearly filings or paying taxes to that state.

In terms of the SBA’s HUBZone certification we’ve known a number of businesses who thought they were eligible because their business was located in a HUBZone only to go through the application process and discover that they did not factor in the 35% employee residency requirement. While 35% of business’s workforce does not need to reside in the same HUBZone area in which the business is located, they must live in another HUBZone area. With the inclusion of qualified census tracts, there is now a street by street determination for HUBZone status. Before diving headlong into the HUBZone application go to the SBA’s HUBZone Map website and enter your business’s addresses, as well as, all of your employees’ addresses – you’ll need provide copies of this with your application anyhow – to determine if you meet the 35% requirement.  If you do not meet the 35% requirement your business is not eligible for HUBZone status.

If you’re a veteran owned business seeking the VA’s Vets First Verification you’ll want to make sure your information is correct and up-to-date in BIRLS (Beneficiary Identification and Records Locator Subsystem). The VA uses this system to validate a veteran’s status and if there are any discrepancies between the system and the information provided during the application process the verification process will be delayed and the business could possibly be found ineligible.

If you’re a minority-owned business seeking certification with NMSDC (National Minority Supplier Development Council) providing proof of ethnicity can be complicated if your birth certificate does not list it. The individual(s) on whom the certification is based must be of at least 25% of their stated ethnicity (e.g. an African American candidate must have at least one grandparent who is also African American).  NMSDC has a list of acceptable supporting documentation that includes: marriage records; death record of parents or grandparents; military record; baptismal certificate; hospital record; or other legal documents from a recognized institution (school, social service agency, church, adoption records, etc.). In extremely rare cases when documentation cannot be provided because none of the official documents available list ethnicity, DNA testing results have been allowed to be submitted.

Note: We always recommend to begin by collecting the required supporting documents.  This way you will know in advance if anything is missing and can address that issue before completing the application.

Remember, before you take someone’s advice to get certified make sure you know and understand the certifier’s eligibility requirements so you haven’t wasted your time.

Posted in Business Implications, FYI, Helpful Hints | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thankful Thoughts

Around Thanksgiving, we began thinking what a strange fall this has been. Between 70 degree weather this close to December and the crazy election cycle we just experienced,   2016 should certainly be a year marked by multiple paragraphs in future history books.

Though many SDMWVLGBTBE (Small, Disadvantaged, Disabled, Minority, Women, Veteran, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered Business Enterprises) entrepreneurs have faced obstacles, this is our time of year for reflecting on gratitude for those who have gone before.

We’re particularly grateful to be in a country rich in diversity traditions.  Current diversity programs are rooted in Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights movement. With President John Kennedy’s 1961 championship of affirmative action, federal contractors were urged to take “affirmative action to ensure that applicants are treated equally without regard to race, color, religion or national origin” by Executive Order (E.O.) 10925. The 1964 legislation, signed by President Lyndon Johnson, added sex/gender to the affirmative action agenda.  This was the birth of Affirmative Action and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that has trickled down into all facets of employment law.

Ten years later, President Richard Nixon issued E.O. 11625 which directed federal agencies to develop comprehensive plans and specific program goals for a national Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) contracting program. Then President Ronald Reagan issued E.O. 12432 in 1983 requiring each federal agency that has significant procurement or grant making authority to create a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) development plan.  Supplier Diversity programs at government agencies and large corporations would not exist without the vision and hard work of many activists and politicians.

Given the recent hotly contested election we just experienced, we’re grateful for the United States.  It took us 240 years to get here, and diversity traditions that have become an integral part of the behemoth that is the US government will not be undone by a single election. In every presidential race since 1980, the divisive rhetoric has escalated (on both sides) to this absolute furor of chicken little proportions … the sky is not falling. We will survive.

We’re grateful for other organizations that offer opportunities to SDMWVLGBTBE businesses like this $50,000 business grant contest from Lending Tree.

And, finally, we’re grateful for the vast SDMWVLGBTBE family. We look forward to the community’s success as we lift each other up by sharing opportunities and partnering.

Posted in Current Events, Our Humble Opinion | Leave a comment

Working ON Your Business

Work ON your business, not in it. As SDMWVLGBTBE (Small, Disadvantaged, Disabled, Minority, Women, Veteran, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered Business Enterprises) entrepreneurs, we frequently hear that phrase.  Sometimes, many of us aren’t even sure what it means because the phrase can encompass many activities … training or education, networking, volunteerism, public speaking, memberships, conferences or mentoring just to list a few.  For us, the definition is anything that takes us outside our daily work while enabling fresh perspective(s).  And, over the last twelve months we’ve taken advantage of each of the suggestions we’re about to make.

Training/Education can come in many forms.  The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers some of the best free programs. Many regions have a variety of entrepreneur support centers, we work with Chatham University’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship. If you belong to one of the 3rd party certifying organizations, such as WBENC or NMSDC, then you have access to many on-line/webinar training opportunities. We also get invited to business growth related webinars by various diversity organizations at the state, county and municipal levels — you can generally find such opportunities through your state or county DBE program. Formal education, through your local educational institutions or on-line programs, is always beneficial. One of the best investments we’ve made is in college level business law and financial management classes for our staff.

Mentoring comes in many forms.  Back at the SBA, there’s the Emerging Leaders program which helps you gain a 10,000 foot view of your business in relationship with your staff, your customers, your community and world at large. Through PowerLink and its partnerships, you can get your very own Advisory Board — a team of outside experts focused on helping you drive the growth of your business. In Western Pennsylvania, the Mansmann Foundation is piloting programs to assist small and diverse businesses begin or grow in distressed communities. In the old days, we might have said check your Yellow Pages, but today you can find all sorts of meaningful programs just a search button away. Mentoring goes both ways, too!  We mentor, or host, students from local high schools and educational institutions. Teaching someone always gives us a chance to think about how and why we do things, offering us a chance to embrace change.

Networking is working on your business, or so we said a while ago.  Networking gives you the opportunity to expand your business’s profile in specific communities.  We have a small networking group we refer to as “ladies who lunch”, which while social in nature is how our group has cemented personal relationships that lead to referrals between each other.  Formal networking events, for us the Pittsburgh Social Exchange or the Pittsburgh Technology Council is often a great way to meet other business people and establish long term relationships. Another good resource is your local or regional Chamber of Commerce.

Volunteerism was not something we considered as working on our business until this year’s WBENC national conference.  Our focus had been on giving back to organizations, in our case WBENC’s regional partner WBEC PA, DE, sNJ, Chatham University, and PowerLink, etc.  Becky Davis, Chief Bosspreneur reminded us that “Service is an amazing way for you to make a difference in your community, impact lives and change your business while changing the world.”  We didn’t think about how that volunteerism was likely to have a positive impact on our business.  If you don’t have a cause close to your heart, why not check out the Kiwanis, local women and children’s shelters, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Boy or Girl Scouts … or anything that moves you to help your community.

Conferences/Trade Shows often offer the best of all worlds, combining educational and networking (and even volunteerism) components while many include marketplaces or trade shows.  If industry specific, there’s exposure to new products, services, trends and resources … hot topics, what’s in, what’s on the way out … and, perhaps determining what might be the best next steps for your company.  This might be a good opportunity to learn about competition in your customer space so you can evaluate your business’s comparative strengths and weaknesses — or find a potential partner for bidding on large contracts.  Most trade shows have an educational component that could help you learn techniques or tools to provide better support to your customers.  And,  you can visit booths to gather information on industry suppliers.  On the other hand, if you are the potential customer, the trade show is an environment where you can immediately research many supplier’s products, prices, and services, all in a single place.

Memberships can often go handed in with the opportunity to network. When we moved our business back to into the community we joined the Wilkinsburg Chamber Commerce, you can find such organizations at local, state, and even national levels. Beyond the traditional options of your local chamber or industry specific professional and trade associations more personal memberships – say to your college alumni association – can also garner opportunities to connect for you and your business.

Public speaking on behalf of charitable or professional organizations ties back nicely to volunteerism, conferences and networking.  If you have expertise to share, speaking about it is a good way for others to learn about you and your business.  And if public speaking makes you nervous, you can always become a member of Toastmasters and learn to engage an audience comfortably.

There’s lots of ways to work on your business, you just have to stick your toe in and test the waters to find out what works for you.

Posted in Business Implications, Helpful Hints | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Need for Supplier Diversity?

Back in 2010 we wrote  a brief history of Supplier Diversity, the highlights of which included a brief synopsis of the following Executive Orders:

  • 10925
  • 11246,
  • 11458,
  • 11625, and
  • 12432.

At the federal level these orders formed the basis for the process of identifying and vetting businesses claiming diverse status. Again, diverse is an easy way to refer to all recognized SDMWVLGBTBE (Small, Disadvantaged, Disabled, Minority, Women, Veteran, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered Business Enterprises) with a single word. Supplier Diversity is a formalized program that encourages the use of these diverse suppliers.

The federal government actively works to meet its diversity spend goals and foster inclusion and one way they do that is by getting its suppliers – be they diverse themselves or not – to assist them. It is because of this that state, county and city governments have developed their own certification and supplier diversity programs, why major corporations have supplier diversity programs, and why 3rd party certifiers have come into being over the years.

It seems almost shocking in 2016, after 50+ years of continual program crafting and enhancements, that an executive at a large regional corporation would scoff at the notion of supplier diversity, but it still happens. Whether supplier diversity is seen as no longer needed – which is not the case – or something that just needs to be paid lip service in order to show that an attempt was made (sadly something that seems be to the case at some organizations), it is clear that supplier diversity is not a fad.

It is, however, something that takes time … case in point, in 1994 the federal government set a 5% spend goal for small woman owned businesses. It took until fiscal year 2015 to meet that goal for the first time. That is 21 years.

We’re glad the federal government finally met its stated goal for women business enterprise contracting! And, even if an organization meets goals, this doesn’t mean that it should stop making improvements to supplier diversity programs.   Many organizations committed to supplier diversity actively review and tweak their diversity plans, just as they do overall business plans. Personally, we’d love to see more entities strive for loftier overall diversity spend goals, like the one set by New York’s Governor Cuomo of 30%.  We can dream big!

Posted in FYI, Our Humble Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CAGE Code Changes

If you’re a SDMWVLGBTBE (Small, Disadvantaged, Disabled, Minority, Women, Veteran, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered Business Enterprise) owner that has been chasing Federal contracts you have a CAGE code.  We’ve had one since the late 1990s. This CAGE (Commercial and Government Entity) Code is a unique identifier (ID) assigned to Federal suppliers. And this code is assigned to any business, no matter its size, when it registers to do business with the Federal government.

The DLA (Defense Logistics Agency) who is responsible for managing the assignment of the CAGE Codes is in the making changes to their process, so that they can verify and maintain accurate data about Federal contractors. Unfortunately, this 44 year-old program hasn’t had a consistent way of tracking when businesses with CAGE Codes become inactive. Perhaps they’ve gone out of business, reorganized under new ownership or simply decided not to keep current with their Federal listings.

What does this change mean for you? A CAGE Code will now have an expiration date. The implementation of expiration dates will begin with domestic CAGE Codes that are new or updated after August 25, 2016. For those companies that are registered in Federal contracting registration system, SAM (System Award Management) your CAGE Code expiration will be set to match your SAM registration … your SAM and CAGE Code will be set to expire at the same time. When you renew your SAM registration, your CAGE Code will be renewed with it.

What if you’re not registered in SAM but have a code? In February, the DLA launched a new public CAGE website to consolidate information about the program and allow for a CAGE Search and Inquiry feature. Businesses can find and keep their CAGE Codes active outside of the SAM system at this site, once the expiration date policy goes into effect.

NOTE: If you have an older CAGE Code, one that was received prior to 25 August 2016 and your business is not registered in SAM your CAGE Code will not automatically expire. A second phase of DLA’s effort is planned, but hasn’t been fully  developed yet. The DLA is working on an auto-generated email notification that will be sent out alerting unregistered businesses that an expiration date for their CAGE code  has been assigned. Following SAM guidelines, the DLA will make four attempts to contact the impacted businesses during this planned notification process.

So, if you have a CAGE code but are not sure of its status or your SAM registration, this might be a good time to do a little research.

Posted in Business Implications, FYI, Helpful Hints | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Getting Out and About

We overheard a comment the other day, that “so and so spends a lot of time going to meetings and networking events”.  The speaker seemed critical of the person attending events, even though this person’s job involved establishing business relationships on behalf of an organization.  It occurred to us that networking events is one of the most effective ways for SDMWVLGBTBE (Small, Disadvantaged, Disabled, Minority, Women, Veteran, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered Business Enterprise) owners to learn about their markets and competitors, make new contacts and keep themselves active in the minds of others.

But first, a word about business cards.  Many people like to write notes directly on the business card as reminders. At several recent events we watched people struggle to make notes on high gloss or coated cards.  While these shiny cards look really great, if your potential customer can’t make a quick note on your card, they might not remember why being in touch with you is a good idea … just something to consider next time you have a batch of cards printed.

Each month, there are probably dozens of events a SDMWVLGBTBE representative could choose to attend – from “how to do business with” seminars to national trade shows – so it makes sense to strategize and prepare in order to maximize your time for the best return.  Some questions to consider as you prepare:

  • Who do we buy from? Why? How did this relationship develop?
  • What’s my business’s foot print – local, regional, national, international?
  • Does my industry have a trade association? Don’t know? Here’s a way to find many of them.
  • What’s new in our industry? Our city/county, region or state?
  • What’s our competition doing?

For us, on question one we’ve learned over the years, we tend to do business with people we know and trust … whether we’re the company buying or selling. Technology is a wonderful thing, but filling out on-line forms, having email or text chats, preparing written proposals, using Bing or Google to research – not a single one of these activities does as much for our business as actual face-to-face conversations with other human beings.  And, we find the greatest gatherings of other interesting human beings to be trade shows, education, volunteer or networking events.  There is a huge cross-section of people at these events.  People who may become casual acquaintances, friends, suppliers, referral sources, bidding partners or customers.  All gathered in one space, with no gatekeepers to prevent us from talking with anyone we choose.

If the event is specific to your industry, you should be getting exposure to new products, services, trends and resources … learning the hot topics, what’s in, what’s on the way out and gain an understanding of what might be the best next actions for your company.  This might be the best place to learn about the competition, pick up literature on what they’re doing so you can evaluate your business’s comparative strengths and weaknesses.  Most trade shows have an educational component targeted to your industry that may help you learn techniques or tools to provide better support to your customers.  And,  you can visit booths to gather information on industry suppliers.  On the other hand, if you are the potential customer, the trade show is an environment where you can immediately research many companies’ products, prices, and services, all in just one day.

Networking events tend to be broader in scope, not limited to a specific industry, but may be geographically specific or potentially service-related.  At networking events, the goal is more about getting to know people.  How many times have you heard someone say, “It’s not what you know it’s who you know”? About a bazillion, right?  So how do you get to know people?  At these events, you  should be spending time listening to and talking with people, face-to-face interactions where you ask people about themselves and their businesses and answers questions about you and your industry. It has to be a two way exchange of information.  If you are open, approachable (smile!), genuinely interested in those you meet and you offer to help others then the relationships you establish will become mutually beneficial.  Help can be as simple as suggesting a restaurant, a magazine article, a book or another person to talk to — or remembering to refer someone to your new contact when you think it will help them.  It seems like all the best opportunities are shared person-to-person, and this is how you expand your network.

Wish we could remember where we read “be memorable“.   Whether you’re attending a trade show or networking event, you want people to remember you.  Be visible within the dress code of the event.  Do you have a signature color, a popping tie or piece of jewelry? Maybe add something that makes you stand out  … an accessory that becomes a conversation starter (still thinking about the shoes from the last national conference) — we always wear our WBENC women-owned lapel pins!

You aren’t going to be meeting new people sitting behind your desk.  As SDMWVLGBTBE businesses we need to be out and about, connecting.

Posted in Business Implications, FYI, Helpful Hints | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Post Conference Blues

We’re back from Orlando, and what a great WBENC conference it was!  Sort of lost count on the number we’ve attended, but they get better and larger every year.  We believe national conferences and business fairs are a fantastic way for SDMWVLGBTBE (Small, Disadvantaged, Disabled, Minority, Women, Veteran, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered Business Enterprise) owners and staff to connect with existing and future customers and suppliers.  Of course, it can also be overwhelming!  You meet thousands of new faces, discuss hundreds of opportunities, get educated and entertained in one very compressed period of time.

When we attend, sponsor or exhibit at a WBENC or other event we go with a flexible agenda, open minds and comfortable shoes.  Trust us, you absolutely, positively need comfortable footwear for the miles you’re going to cover!  The step challenge was won by an attendee in high heels that would have crippled us in 30 minutes.

Beyond shoes, we’ve developed some strategies that make post conference follow up a bit easier. For us, the most important is business card notes – we always write keywords on the person’s card. One of our cards says AUTOCODER and migrations, because the conversation was about converting legacy systems. In our follow up communications, we’ll be reminding this contact exactly what we talked about when we provide the capabilities statement requested. Each card we brought back has three or four words that will help us re-engage in meaningful conversation.

There are the really cool products you stumble upon bumping into other conference attendees. Our favorite this year, Happi Tummi. We wondered why the lady with cool yellow spats (okay, we’re obsessed with footwear) was carrying around a baby doll. Not being shy, we asked and learned … if you have little ones in your immediate circle, you’ll want to check out this remedy for calming crying babies. If you fly a lot, it might be a handy brief case tool to settle a fellow traveler for a more peaceful journey.

We’re always on the lookout for partnering opportunities, and this event added several potential collaborators. Where appropriate, we’ve already sent email about some August matchmaking opportunities that might be helpful to them. When we talk next, they will already know we’re committed to mutually beneficial relationships, because we took the time to provide useful information without any expectations.

And, don’t overlook the educational opportunities at your conferences!

The keynote speaker for the Forum Event talked about the case for diversity, a topic we covered in many 2013 posts. What was interesting to us was Ms. Brown’s discussion of covering, defined as the things we “choose not to share” because we’re concerned how they might be perceived in our workplace even though they may be traits that are key to who we are as authentic human beings. We were taught as children never to discuss religion, sex or politics. Yet, our beliefs, practices and orientation often define us. How do we balance who we are with who our employers expect us to be when representing them?

There was another STEP – Supplier Training & Empowerment Program – offered several times by Coca Cola and delivered by Becky A. Davis. She quoted Bob Burg, “Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment.” We need to make a difference in our communities and Ms. Davis challenged us to answer “Who are you serving/advocating/volunteering for”?

So, we came back with our work cut out for us. We’ll be busily following up with those we met. Our minds will process the new information we gained and we’ll refresh our approach to customers, colleagues and partners based on last week’s experience. We’d love to hear about your conference experiences, strategies and tactics.

Posted in FYI, Helpful Hints, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Passion for Your Business

In the car with my best friend on a sunny afternoon, she talked about a really cool, simple idea that could be the basis of the next woman owned billion dollar business. Yes, we said Billion. No, we’re NOT going to tell you the cool, simple idea because we want to see her build it! But, it reminded us of the Malcolm Forbes quote “The biggest mistake people make in life is not trying to make a living doing what they most enjoy.” We’d modify it bit, and change it to … doing what they feel most passionate about. We think that is the perfect definition of what motivated the majority of SDMWVLGBTBEs (Small, Disadvantaged, Disabled, Minority, Women, Veteran, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered Business Enterprises) to start their business empires (smile, that was intended as gentle sarcasm).

Our story, our founder spent six years watching technical people being taken advantage of and thought she could find a path that would make customers and consultants happy while making a fair profit, 33 years later she’s more passionate about diversity and inclusion but that’s what life is about, growth and expansion, right? The biggest hurdle she faced along the way — the wall of people who said “no, you can’t do that” in one way or another. The banks, the competitors, the now ex-husband, the family members. It’s silly, it can’t be done, it will cost too much, blah, blah, blah, wah, wah, … do you suppose all entrepreneurs begin to hear Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice when the negativity piles up around them? Wonder what this year’s INC Magazine’s 30 under 30 entrepreneurs thought when they heard no? Because they obviously just kept going forward.

It seems to us that if the business founder has a passion for the idea or product then s/he will find a way to make it come to fruition. It might not be rocket science, but there are people in Pittsburgh solving real world problems in: Trusst Lingerie; Nikki’s Magic Wands; 84 Lumber’s Green Building Supplies; CPI Creative branding solutions; On-Site Travel Director’s assistance; terrific Leona’s ice cream sandwiches at Nancy’s East End Diner (best breakfast on our side of town).

So many of today’s gigantic businesses started in college dorm rooms like Facebook (“My goal was never to just create a company. A lot of people misinterpret that, as if I don’t care about revenue or profit or any of those things. But what not being just a company means to me is building something that actually makes a really big change in the world.” ~ Mark Zuckerberg) or Google (“The dream as conceived 25 years ago has not been achieved. Until software becomes the ultimate tool for collaboration, productivity, and efficiency, the work is not done. And there’s nothing more fun than doing that work.” ~ Larry Page), while older ones began in garages like Microsoft (“Paul and I, we never thought that we would make much money out of the thing. We just loved writing software.” ~ Bill Gates) and Apple (“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” ~ Steve Jobs).

Who knows where the next bright idea will be born — perhaps it really was in our Jeep on Pennsylvania’s Route 28. Stay tuned.

Posted in FYI, Our Humble Opinion | 1 Comment