Charlotte Chamber’s Top 10 Tips for Business in 2014

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The year is well under way. How’s it going with your New Year’s Resolutions? Don’t fret. At the Charlotte Chamber, we’ve developed a checklist of 10 tips for the business professional in 2014. Here’s our top 10 resolutions for business professionals this year:

10. Support the more than 20,000 small businesses in Charlotte. There are amazing treasures throughout the Queen City. Search our member directory of 3,300 member companies here.

9. Write down all of your various logins and passwords, and tuck them away in a safe place.

8. Write another note, reminding you of aforementioned safe place.

7. Break the ice. Start a conversation with a colleague you don’t know well.

6. Connect with the Charlotte Chamber and your favorite local businesses on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. You don’t want to be the one always out of the loop.

5. Respond to that email from two months ago – that’s still marked urgent in your inbox.

4. Finally update your Outlook contacts from all of the business cards you collected during the year.

3. Ride the light rail to see your favorite pro sports team in action. Root for the home team!

2. Don’t regret the office holiday party come next year – ‘nuff said.

1. Get involved with the Charlotte Chamber. Whether you are a member or nonmember, there’s a great opportunity available to you to win $25,000 for your business by competing in the 2014 Power Up Chapter Challenge. The yearlong competition offers an opportunity for promising local entrepreneurs and small businesses to vie for a chance to win a $25,000 grand prize provided Duke Energy.

Here’s how it works: Semifinalists across the Chamber’s seven chapter footprints present their businesses’ stories to fellow chamber members during chapter luncheons. Presentations should identify issues faced in the attempt to grow and create jobs, and discuss successes and challenges along the way. Chapter members select a winner, who receives a prize package and the opportunity to compete in a November grand finale event to name an overall winner.

Small businesses and entrepreneurs should go to charlottechamber.com/powerup to apply to participate. There is no entry fee, and members and nonmembers may apply to compete.

For additional suggestions for making 2014 your best year yet, visit charlottechamber.com/2014resolutions.

Resolutions for Your Business in 2014

Some New Year’s resolutions are obvious and common, like promising to work out more, eat nutritiously, and improve one’s overall being.  But have you ever considered establishing New Year’s resolutions in the workplace?

If you are the leader of a small business, you understand that some challenges simply come with the territory, like effectively managing a team, expanding your business, reaching customers, and obtaining all of the necessary financing.

As you work to become a stronger, wiser leader, here are some resolutions to make in the New Year:

-Make it a point to let team members know that they are appreciated.

Owning and managing a business can be hectic, stressful, and overwhelming. In the midst of ensuring that tasks are being completed properly and on time, it can be easy to overlook the individuals behind these tasks: your team.  Although there is a lot to remember, the one thing that you can’t forget is to let team members know that they’re appreciated and that what they do is important.

In the New Year, make it a point to take thoughtful consideration of each individual on your team.  If they’re performing well and doing a good job, let them know!  This will only boost team morale, and boosted morale means boosted performance!

Also, work to improve job satisfaction.

Happy employees work better.  It just makes sense.  In 2014, take the time to consider the benefits you’re offering your team!

-Tech up.

It’s the age of technology, and it can be nearly impossible to keep up with all of the latest gadgets and applications for your business.  Make it a point in 2014 to “keep up with the Joneses,” so to speak, and don’t let a good technological opportunity pass you by!

-Understand your customers.

Almost always, customers will return to a company that treated them with respect and worked to understand their goals the first time around.  Give your customers the attention they deserve, by working to improve and offer top-notch customer services.  If you do that, not only will they return for more business, they’ll recommend their friends do the same.

-SEO, SMM, etc.

For reference:

SEO—Search Engine Optimization

SMM—Social Media Marketing

These are more than just acronyms!  They’re the way of the future for big and small businesses alike.  Customers will most likely see your website before they walk in or even call, so work to offer a straightforward, informative, and innovative site for them to visit.  After all, first impressions are everything.

And as far as social media is concerned, what better way to understand, meet, and engage with your customers than by speaking to them directly?

Still brainstorming New Year’s resolutions for your business?

Here are some great ideas from Forbes, USA Today, and Huffington Post!

Don’t forget to visit www.CharlotteBusinessResources.com to find information, tips, and resources for your business.

Q&A with Southern Cake Queen

CharlotteBusinessResources.com had the opportunity to interview Emma Merisier, Owner of Southern Cake QueenSouthern Cake Queen

Southern Cake Queen offers a variety of gourmet cupcakes, custom cakes, cookies, and other delicious treats.  It is a mobile only business and can be seen at food truck rallies, festivals, or other area gatherings.

Charlotte Business Resources (CBR):  Tell us about Southern Cake Queen?

Southern Cake Queen (SCQ): We are Charlotte’s 1st  mobile cupcakery that provides  gourmet cupcakes, custom cakes & other delicious treats to our customers.

CBR:  What motivated you to enter the mobile cupcake business?  What continues to motivate you?

SCQ:  I was already baking custom cakes and desserts but wanted something that would set me apart from my competition.  It was the height of the food truck and cupcake craze so I decided to launch THE PINK LADY.   My loyal customers and fans continue to motivate me along with sweet success.

CBR: As a certified Small Business Enterprise (SBE) with the City of Charlotte, how has certification help grow your business?

SCQ: Certification gives us a competitive edge.  We have provided desserts for several departments within the City of Charlotte. Going forward we plan to continue building relationships  in order to increase our business with the City of Charlotte.

CBR: Congratulations on expanding your business into the concourse at Charlotte Douglas International Airport! How were you able to create this partnership?

SCQ:  My mother always says, “What God has for you….is for YOU.”  The owners ordered some  gourmet cupcakes and LOVED them. The rest is history!

CBR: What advice would you give other small businesses that are seeking opportunities to open new markets and grow their business?

SCQ: Always place quality and excellent customer service as a priority.  Also, create a strategic plan and follow through.

CBR: What do you think was the most influential advice you ever received as an entrepreneur?

SCQ:   There is no need to reinvent the wheel because successful people leave footprints.  It was also recommended that I  team up with a mentor and he’s been great.

CBR: What experience do you think was the most valuable influencer on who you are today?

SCQ: Taking the risk to purchase The Pink Lady and investing the sweat and tears and  money to get her ready to hit the streets!  It’s turned out to be everything I’ve wanted and more.

CBR: What’s next for Southern Cake Queen?

SCQ:  We are working on shipping our products because customers are requesting it from all over the country!

To learn more about Southern Cake Queen, visit www.southerncakequeen.com

Q&A with MANA Nutrition

CharlotteBusinessResources.com had the honor of interviewing Mark Moore, CEO of MANA Nutrition.  MANA is a group of social entrepreneurs that seeks to develop and provide solutions to address severe cases of malnutrition in children around the world.

Charlotte Business Resources (CBR): Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Mr. Mark Moore (MM):  I spent nearly ten years working in eastern Uganda, serving as a rural community development worker and missionary.  After returning to the United States, I earned a Master’s degree at Georgetown University.  I have served as Legislative Fellow and Africa Specialist in the United States Senate for Senator Mary Landrieu, as an Africa Analyst for the Science Applications International Corporation, and as Policy Director for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

In 2009, I learned about ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) and its impact.  Before long, with the help of my friends Brett Biggs, David Todd Harmon, Bret Raymond and others, we started MANA Nutrition.

Prior to co-founding MANA, I co-founded Kibo Group, a development organization that houses numerous Africa projects.

CBR: Tell us about the mission of MANA Nutrition.

MM: MANA aims to prevent child deaths due to severe acute malnutrition (SAM) by treating the condition through the production and distribution of ready to use fortified foods. MANA (Mother Administered Nutritive Aid) is a ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) made of a fortified peanut paste that has been carefully formulated to provide a child’s basic nutritional needs.  Roughly three servings of MANA a day for six weeks can save the life of child suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM).

MANA

CBR: As social impact entrepreneur, what resources did you find most useful in getting started?

MM: In Charlotte we have benefitted enormously by our connection to Packard Place and Queen City Forward. We were committed to social business values before we relocated here, but meeting such a great crowd at Packard only reinforced those values.  In addition K & L Gates has been a tremendous legal resource and Bank of America has been very encouraging in listening to our corporate wellness dreams for the Calorie Cloud. Beyond Charlotte, the Unreasonable Institute in Boulder, Colorado has been a great resource and connecting point to like-minded people around the country.

CBR: What has been the biggest hurdle that you have had to overcome?

MM: I think most people would say money and investment, but I think those funding hurdles are just symptoms of the real problem of being viewed as credible by investors who have not yet had their mental landscapes stretched enough to view social impact investments as potentially viable business entities.

With Charlotte being a finance town, many of those in the investment community here have had careers in traditional finance and banking. Getting their attention is not easy and they tend to have more simplistic “buckets” in mind that view entities as “either or”…either business or social do-gooders.  Either “for profit” or “nonprofit”.  So I think the biggest hurdle is getting the Charlotte business community to take us and other social entrepreneurs seriously.

At MANA we have garnered around $13 million in investment from London, New York, Dallas and San Francisco and turned a million dollar profit last year. But as of yet, no money (donor or loans) has come from the Charlotte community.

CBR: As an emerging high growth entrepreneur, what is the key to finding investors?

MM: Having a track record is key, I think. Being able to point to a past effort and say, “We started with nothing and we did ‘xyz’.”  Even if there is no track record, I think it’s key to create small success stories that show progress. Rather than showing up with a new business concept and saying “imagine if” and “we think”, it’s much better to add on to those dream ideas by saying, “So we tried this at a very small scale at company A and the results were B.”  However, I also realize that such an approach is not possible with some ideas and concepts.

Whatever the case, we have almost ceased to use the buzzword “sustainable” because, to me, it seems to set such a low bar. I would never say to my young daughter that my dream for her is for her to be “sustainable.” That really goes without saying. My dream for her is to thrive and be great. I think investors in a social impact space want to know you will be around, so we use terms like “sustainable.”  Since we tend to venture into broken markets, it’s often impressive to achieve that goal. But businesses like Wal-Mart or Apple or Nike do not launch efforts that they think will be “sustainable.” They look for and launch efforts that they think will thrive and make money. Granted, making money is not easy in many social impact arenas since the effort is often started and directed at trying to solve something and success in that regard is, by definition, measured by more than just profit.

CBR: Tell me about the “Get in the Ring” competition that you competed in.  How did you get involved in this competition and what resources have you used to prepare?

Get in the Ring

NOTE:  “Get in the Ring” is a startup pitch competition founded by the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship in the Netherlands.  The Kauffman Foundation brought this international competition to the United States for the first time as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week 2013.  The U.S. national finals of “Get in the Ring: The American Startup Clash” gave 8 of America’s most outstanding entrepreneurs an opportunity to compete.  The U.S. champion was flown to Rotterdam to compete at the global finals for a chance at more than $1 million in angel funding.

MM:  We applied through our Packard Place and Queen City Forward connections and had a great time in Kansas City.  Of the 8 finalists we made it to the final five, but the challenge of presenting our business model in 25 seconds was pretty tough. We got “knocked out” and a good part of our knock out was due to me not articulating our idea with the clarity required by such a tight time frame. It turned out to be a good learning experience. In the end, the team who won the US competition also won the world competition, so we don’t feel so bad getting knocked out by the world champ!  In the end, it would probably be a very helpful exercise for every company to stand up and explain what they do in less than 30 seconds. It’s not easy.

CBR: What is the most important lesson you have learned?

MM: Don’t give up. One metaphor we use a lot at MANA is that we are really not all that remarkable other than the fact that we swam so far from shore that when we looked back at the safety of shore, we were so far away that there was really no option of swimming back. So we tread water and look for floating debris and passing freighters. I think one of the most important lessons is not only “don’t give up” but also “don’t put yourself in a position where giving up is an option.”

CBR: What’s next for MANA Nutrition?

MM: The global budgets for the stuff we make, RUTF (Ready to use Therapeutic Food) is about $200 million. By the end of 2014, we will own about 10% of that market. We will have made and sold about $20 million in RUTF. Those budgets are housed in places like UNICEF and USAID, so the market is one that is controlled by aid and the big, global aid world. The problem is that the foe we are fighting, SAM (severe acute malnutrition) is probably more like a billion dollar problem. There is a huge funding gap.

So, what’s next for MANA is a couple of things:

1) We need to grow the pie, not just expand our market share of the existing pie. The idea that got us to the finals of the Get in the Ring competition, The Calorie Cloud, is our biggest and best idea to grow the pie. If we can get people to actually fight their problem (obesity) by uploading and donating their burned calories then we can “recycle” those calories and turn them into 500 calorie packets of MANA. The money to monetize these calories has to come from some entity that has a business interest in people here winning their battle with obesity. Right now, we know that companies have a huge incentive to get their employees fit because it will save them money on health care costs. So that’s our focus: source and collect calories from corporate America by offering their employees an opportunity to actually impact the life of a child by making better choices about diet and exercise. Since the CDC and other credible sources say that every obese employee costs a company as much as $2,000 extra a year, then we can actually save companies a lot of money by allowing them to pay for the calories that their employees burn, compile and send our way. We think it’s a world-changing idea.

2) The next thing for MANA is to develop new products. While our current products do an amazing and efficient job at fighting severe malnutrition, aid groups have other nutritional needs. We have a unique ability to creatively develop and produce these new products by using our existing team and factory.

To learn more about MANA Nutrition, visit http://mananutrition.org.

Click here to watch Mark Moore, CEO of MANA Nutrition, explain their mission and describe the Calorie Cloud.

Click here to learn more about Charlotte’s high-growth scene.

Making Big – and Smart – Business Decisions

 
Is your business at a crossroads? Perhaps you have the opportunity to diversify or expand but aren’t sure how to do it or if you even should. Thinking through such a challenge can be overwhelming, and let’s be honest, downright scary. Well, never fear, Charlotte small businesses, SCORE, one of our Resource Partners, recently recounted how its services helped Penny Behling, owner of Dynamic Dragon Boat Racing, LLC, work through a similar dilemma. SCORE has a local office serving small businesses in the Charlotte region and has seasoned, expert counselors ready to help your business with problem-solving. In Penny’s case, she was paired with a SCORE mentor to analyze and assist with her business challenge. Read on to find out how SCORE helped Penny make good decisions and achieve success.

Interested in Increasing Your Exposure?

“As a PTAC counselor, I frequently get asked how companies can market themselves to prime contractors and increase their company’s exposure… While there are many different components to a good marketing plan, companies need to make sure that they are utilizing the many different public business development resources to maximize their efforts.  Many resources exist that are low or no cost to small businesses, and they can help a business gain exposure with prime contractors.” Rebecca Barbour

 

Read more in the post from Barbour, titled, “Increasing Your Exposure.”  In her post, she discusses Government Contractor Registrations, Supplier Connection, Membership Organizations, and many other relevant topics.

Click here to read the post in its entirety.

 

Does Your Business Have Curb Appeal?

Your company’s curb appeal goes a long way toward winning customers and growing revenue. Even if you’re not a retail business your curb appeal sends a message to passers-by about the quality of your work. Your business appearance projects an image to potential customers and local residents making them more or less inclined to visit or otherwise support your business.

How Important is Curb Appeal?

A consultant recently assessed the town of Maggie Valley, North Carolina to help the town address its declining tourism. The consultant concluded the town’s main problem comes down to aesthetics. In other words, it lacks curb appeal. He noted, “The curbside appeal of the town has suffered over the years. It is one of those things that affects every business.” According to the consultant, 70 percent of first-time sales are based on curb appeal.

Ready to spruce up your curb appeal? Here’s a simple 4-step plan:

  1. First, consider how the front of your business looks to passers-by. The façade of a building is the single most important factor determining its curb appeal. It’s the first impression that customers will see of your business. Attractive signage, uncluttered windows and fresh paint can go a long way in presenting your business at its best. The City of Charlotte offers grant programs that can help businesses achieve a more modern feel with substantial renovations such as new storefront windows and doors, metal canopies and modern industrial lighting.
  2. Next, consider your signage. It should be in plain view and easy to read. It should also be made out of quality materials. Remember the old saying “you get what you pay for” and avoid cheap-looking material. Choose a sign that complements the business district that you’re located in. If you’re in a shopping center your sign should match the size, style and material of the other businesses in the center. And remember to check with your local Zoning Department to learn if you need a sign permit.
  3. Take a look at your parking area. You’ll want ample, convenient parking on a paved lot with clear markings. Lots should be well-maintained; potholes should be fixed and faded lines should be repainted. If you’re located in an urban area with lots of asphalt and no trees, consider adding tree islands and evergreen shrubs. This can make a huge impact on your curb appeal while at the same time improving the environment. Remove grass that invariably grows in cracks next to curbs and sidewalks as well as in parking lots.
  4. Finally, keep landscaping well-maintained and well-manicured. Updating your business landscaping with simple evergreen shrubs can have a huge impact at relatively low-cost. Consider adding color to your site with knock-out roses. They’re hardy in Charlotte’s climate and are being used more frequently in privately-owned commercial projects as well as publicly-owned street medians. If you have Crape Myrtle trees on your property keep the “suckers” – all the new shoots that occur around the base of Crape Myrtle trees – trimmed away. And don’t forget to keep the public sidewalk in front of your business free from weeds, tree limbs and other debris.

The Bottom Line

For better or worse, your business will be judged by its appearance. Fortunately, your business’ image is within your control. Consider these tips and implement those your business needs. Remember that the City of Charlotte has programs available to help you upgrade affordably  Learn more about our partners at the City of Charlotte here.

Unlocking the Secret of a Seasonal Business

We often hear of the ice cream shop at the beach that’s only open in summer, or entire towns that gear up only for tourist seasons, winter, spring, summer, or fall. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to run a business this way? What exactly is this strange business model like, and how does it work? Does the ice cream shop really close at the end of summer? How does the owner generate income when the shop is closed?

If you’re interested in unraveling the mystery of the seasonal business, George McAllister of Charlotte’s Small Business and Technology Development Center, a dedicated Charlotte Business Resource Partner, helps demystify the topic.