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    Consulting with Start-Ups (6th in Series)

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    BUSINESS PLAN

    The first and most important task for any start-up is a two-page executive summary outlining your business model. In two pages, you need to be able to summarize the market, operations, management, and financial projections of your new company. It must have real information (not fluff and wishes), and it must build logically. The sections of the executive summary are the same for the lengthier business plan. They are as follows:

    1. Business Name and Legal Status
    2. Market Analysis
    3. Key Objectives
    4. Financial Objectives
    5. Market Opportunities
    6. Market Threats (Competition)
    7. Operations
    8. Personnel & Staffing
    9. Management Team & Governance
    10. Pro Forma Targets (Financial Projections)

    “Real information” speaks to the need to gather actual community data toward the representation of your market, logic of your objectives, and efficacy of your financial projections. Census data, consumer research, commerce data, and even verifiable observations made over time can provide a foundation of reality for your projections. Do not express what you think. Communicate what you can support with data

    “Build logically” reminds you to connect each part of the summary in a logical chain of support for the business. By the time the reader gets to the Pro Forma Targets, he/she should consider the projections justified by the preceding discussion. While you write, continually ask yourself, “What does the previous section support?”

    DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB

    There is a reason some of the most successful companies started in basements or garages: Low Overhead! Consider the financial swing from having a job and income of $2,500 per month to quitting the job and hiring a building at $1,200 per month. My advice is to keep your current employment situation while you build your business plan, secure capital, and develop your brand.

    Yet, when planning to launch a business while working at another business, keep in mind the policies of your current employer. Policies regarding competition, secondary employment, and intellectual property are of the utmost importance.

    Competition

    Many employers, recognizing the demand for experienced professionals, now require some form of non-compete clause to be signed as a condition of employment. These contracts usually specify an amount of time that you must wait before engaging in an enterprise that could be seen by your employer as competing. Notice that most contracts allow the employer to determine whether the activity is a competing activity. For example, the employer may ask you to sign an agreement not to accept their former clients as your clients for a period of 2 years after separating from the company.

    Some states outlaw the use of non-compete clauses. Employers in these situations may require strict, periodic reporting of your “outside” activities. This could include the amount of compensation you obtain from outside sources and a mandatory conflict of interests review by a risk assessment officer. Realize that not all levels of the human resources chain make this apparent during the hiring process. Read your entire contract and personnel policy documents to know what your employer allows, discourages, and seeks to monitor.

    Secondary Employment

    Most often, the concern on the part of the employer is to ensure that your business start-up does not infringe on your ability to complete your duties as assigned. You can satisfy this by submitting documentation that your secondary employment occurs during hours that you are not expected to work. For example, if you are employed 9am – 5pm Monday through Friday, you may carry out secondary employment from 7pm – 11pm. If you are on-call during the evenings, you can engage in secondary employment during weekends.

    Another concern could be potential conflicts of interest. A conflict of interest exists when your interests compete with the interests of the company. It is important to make your employer aware of potential conflicts of interest and the steps you have taken to ensure that the conflict does not impair your performance, damage the company, or run afoul of ethical conduct. The existence of a conflict does not necessarily mean that the activity is unethical. Many companies have procedures for reporting and monitoring potential conflicts.

    Intellectual Property

    It is hard to believe that there once was a time when employers did not have specific policies for the inventions and advancements created by their employees. Generally, when you produce something for hire, the entity that pays you owns all the rights to that product. But, this has become an important point of concern, and sometimes litigation, in certain instances.

    Many employers now have a thoughtful policy covering intellectual property rights. Intellectual property is essentially the question of rights to your creation—who owns it. It could be unique ways to prop open a door. It could be a line of programming code. Some have argued that it could be a process for checking out in an online store.  Before you produce anything beyond your job description, familiarize yourself with the intellectual property rights of your employer.

    Typically, your employer will claim explicit rights to anything you produce with their support. This means that if you use their computers, Internet connection, materials from the break room, copiers, or meeting room space, your employer may claim rights to what is produced. Employers also claim rights to what you produce while you are clocked in or reasonably expected to be “engaged in work for the company.” Be sure to complete paperwork detailing your entrepreneurial work as secondary employment. Do not use materials (even paperclips or recycle-bin bottles) in your inventions. Produce what is yours away from the employer’s offices.

    BUILDING YOUR BRAND

    When consulting with a start-up, maybe the most challenging task is to assist the entrepreneur to build a brand. A brand, in the sense of branding, is more than the logo or the product or service the business is known by. A brand is a warm feeling that the public gets from the smells, sites, or sounds that your business practices create. It is the association of your company with your product along with some amount of positive regard.

    Once you have developed a solid business plan, you must consider your brand. The brand will be built over time, but it is wise to outline its trajectory. Considerations of your brand will influence strategy in hiring, priorities in production, emphasis in marketing, and targets for growth.

    First, consider your product. Second, develop the infrastructure for production. Third, create a schedule and mechanism for communicating your impact. To launch you in this process, consider whether your start-up is producing expertise, service, or a product.

    Conceptualizing Your Expertise

    Experts come in many flavors. Your first task is to specify the outcome to clients who hire your expertise. Articulate the brand of expert you seek to be: Grant Writer, Evaluator, Producer, Subject Matter Expert, Blogger/Copy Writer, Trainer, or Motivational Speaker. Many more options exist.

    If the product is expertise, credibility is of primary importance. Credibility can be communicated through degrees, affiliations, or experience. The greatest of these is experience. If you can effectively communicate your experience, you are closer to securing a contract.

    Infrastructure for the expert will include a method to capture and present experience in an easily accessible form. For example, a motivational speaker may set-up recordings of presentations she gives and post clips to a promotional website. A blogger may track unique visitor and interactions data among readers to demonstrate the value and influences represented by the blog.

    A press kit detailing your credibility will be an important mechanism. In addition to a website listing contact information and examples of your work, a printed press kit is also desirable. As much as our world relies on digital copy, many still enjoy a well-developed printed presentation. Be sure to engage a print designer to take your skills and accent them visually.

    Developing Your Service

    When you launch a service, your primary concern is to provide the highest quality experience for the client. Consequently, this should be the first process you consider when developing your service. Create a process map, also called service plan, which details the process each client will experience. The process map is a flowchart that utilizes specific symbols to communicate decisions, documentation, and other processes. Include all elements of the process including early exits, disciplinary actions, referral options—any procedures that any client may experience.

    A curriculum or mechanism is the infrastructure in a service venture. It answers the question, “How will clients reach the goals your start-up has for them?” It should be specific. For example, if your service is training provided over 8 weeks, you must outline what each of the weeks will entail. Resist the common urge to simply write the topics that will be presented each of the weeks. At least describe the content, the activities, and the resources involved in each week. Other infrastructure for a service venture include policies & procedures, board development plan, accounting plan, insurance & licenses, zoning considerations, and fundraising plan.

    I recommend that you keep these items in an organizational compendium. An organizational compendium is my phrase describing the storage place for program and organizational documents. The key feature of the compendium is that the items are centrally housed, digital when possible, and updated regularly. The compendium should be such that everything needed for a grant proposal, press release, or an annual report can be easily accessed.

    Constructing Your Product

    If you are thinking about launching a tangible product, your primary concern is your market. Your market describes the clients who will purchase your product. You must identify a need and a way to engage the clients with the product satisfying the need. Before you move forward with the considerations of production, calculate whether the market can support your product. That is, figure out if there are enough potential customers to at least break even on the expenses of production. Consider adjusting your price point to increase the pool of customers.

    The primary infrastructure for production of a product is your development cycle. The development cycle details your contracts with suppliers, development of content, packaging, distribution, billing and client engagement. You will also want to plan for inventory storage, distributor requirements, support of products, marketing and social media monitoring. Connect with the department of treasury in your state and local government to learn what sales and use taxes you may be required to pay on the sales of your product. Even states that do not require sales and use taxes may require that you report your sales activity.

    Financial planning is an important consideration of impact when launching products. Calculation of the break-even is one task. Another is calculating what you need to make the venture worthwhile for you in comparison with other activities. Rather than a vague hope to “make money,” consider the lifestyle you desire. Calculate the amount of income required for that lifestyle. Reflect on the market calculations you have completed. If your market can bear your desired amount, set this as your target and plan your growth and investment accordingly.

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    Dr. Michael Wright: Michael A. Wright, PhD, LAPSW is a Social Work Helper Contributor. He offers his expertise as an career coach, serial entrepreneur, and publisher through MAWMedia Group, LLC. Wright has maintained this macro practice consultancy since 1997. Wright lives in Reno, NV.

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    Network Successfully By Asking Five Smart Questions

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    The only thing I ever got from a networking event was a stack of business cards until I changed my mindset. When I was a new social worker, I underestimated the value of connections related to my ability to boost my social work income. I only thought that networking could improve my upward mobility. Now as a seasoned social work veteran, I understand that networking is a tool for building meaningful business relationships. Meaningful business relationships fundamentally increase opportunities to boost social work income using part-time jobs or second gigs.

    Trainings, workshops, or association meetings are the easiest venues for social workers to connect with other social workers. Social workers should also consider events that are not exclusively sponsored by or for the social work profession. Non-social work events provide an expanded opportunity to meet like-minded people outside of the profession. Plan to increase your chances for success. Begin by asking the following question.

    What networking outcome do I want to achieve by attending this event?

    Answering this question outlines your primary focus for participating in the event. Attending a training or seminar enables you to earn Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for licensure purposes and professional development. Earning CEUs, in this example is the outcome that you pay to achieve.  If you have thoughts of collaborating with other social work professionals, the training environment connects you with other social workers who have similar interests in that specific subject.

    A meet and greet networking event allows you to interact with professionals at various levels of their careers. Keynote speakers and experts attend promoting their products, services or theories. Hundreds of professionals exchange business cards and information about their ventures. These large events sound promising, but can also cause frustration. Many people try to speak to the headliners in an attempt to sell themselves. Headliners are those individuals who are extremely successful in their specific field. When their name is spoken, people acknowledge their expertise and work.

    At networking events, headliners are surrounded by people who want something from them. It may be an autograph, a picture, a job or a mentorship. They limit the amount of time they spend with those who are not at their level. They place a monetary value on their time and know how to preserve their time, energy and expertise.  This is a lesson social workers should learn. Your time has a monetary value and you can waste time and effort at networking events without research and strategic planning.

    Who are the influencers in the headliner’s circle? How can I build a connection with them? 

    This question can be answered with a little research. You almost always guarantee yourself an opportunity to meet and speak with a headline by building a business relationship with those in the headliner’s circle. Successful networking is precipitated on communicating win-win outcomes. Each person wants to feel they are gaining from the interaction. This is another reason that knowing your outcome and having a plan makes sense.

    How many colleagues will I approach?

    Once you are in the environment, the fourth question you should ask addresses how to achieve your desired networking outcome.  Set a goal for yourself related to the number of people you plan to approach. You are more likely to talk to others if you set a goal before you arrive.  You may also develop an estimate prior to arriving. Set your estimate using knowledge of the advertised business areas or topics. You may also reassess the goal based on your observations during the event. Do not underestimate the opportunity to talk with others while waiting in line.

    Estimating the number of attendees by business area or topic will help you establish a reasonable goal for interactions. Having a strategy for initiating interactions is also important. Start by talking to the individuals sitting near you. Beyond the basics, ask them how they plan to use the information or how they plan to integrate it into their current work. This moves the chatting from small talk to meaningful conversation.  Listen more than you talk to show your interest. Also, share your plans for using the information. Ask probing questions, as appropriate to help you decide if you want to explore connecting on a professional level.

    Does this information resonate with my professional vision, mission, and goals?

    While this question sounds self-serving, it saves time and effort. Social workers who want to boost their income using part-time work and second gigs know the value of time. They, like headliners, set a monetary value to their time. If the person with whom you are talking does not appear to have a congruent vision, politely move on.

    Meet and greet networking events are very similar to speed dating events. Smart questions, smart answers and strategic planning facilitate getting the outcome you desire. If you are not hearing things that resonate with your vision, mission or goals, then move on. Always remember that just because you want to build a relationship, it doesn’t mean the other person reciprocates. Recognize and respect the signs and signals you receive.

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    How to Turn Your Social Media Followers into Active Donors

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    In marketing, we know that carefully curated and compelling content moves people.

    We see this every day on social media, where viral campaigns compel people to take action every day.

    There’s no doubt that well-crafted social media content can turn followers into active donors. Nonprofit fundraising campaigns have raised millions of dollars, such as Charity: Water with $1.8 million and the ALS ice bucket challenge with $115 million.

    The good news is that powerful content can be harnessed to activate a nonprofit’s social media followers to take action and give.

    The not-so-good news? Creating and curating compelling content isn’t always easy.

    But it’s important—even critical—for nonprofits to maintain active and engaging social media accounts not only to raise awareness and build brand, but to also drive donations.

    Social is Everywhere and Everything

    Experts project that there will be three billion social media users by next year. That’s close to half the global population.

    A good chunk of social media users are known to check in sometimes by the hour or even the minute on top sites like Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter.

    While people of all ages use social media, there’s no doubt that younger generations are typically the first adopters.

    This is important for nonprofits, because younger people use social media to support and donate to their favorite causes. According to this blog post, 43% of millennials made charitable contributions through social media compared to other channels.

    Nonprofit Source also finds that 55% of people who engage with nonprofits on social media take some sort of action, such as donation.

    Knowing this, how can a nonprofit fundraising team turn social media followers into active donors?

    Tips on How to Activate Donors to Give to Your Nonprofit through Social Media

    Build
    You gain followers by posting content consistently daily or twice a day.

    Your content should include a healthy mix of inspirational videos, photo features, donor spotlights, action alerts, motivating statistics, memes and more. Your content can include direct appeals for donations too. Just make sure to balance them with other content.

    To build your following faster, consider devoting some budget to sponsoring content, including boosted posts on Facebook and Instagram. Boosting posts can cost as little as $25 for a campaign and can allow you to target specific users, ensuring that your posts wind up at the top of the right people’s feeds.

    Activate
    You accomplished the seemingly impossible: you built a following of engaged fans on your social media pages.

    But they’re not giving.

    How do you convert these loyal social media followers into active donors ready to give?

    Awaken and engage your social media followers with calls to action. Create content that tells your story through video and animated gifs. Suggest they give even a small amount to your campaign to help solve the problems you’ve illustrated. Remind them that every little bit helps. Most importantly, make it as easy as possible for them to give.

    Make Action Easy
    If you’ve succeeded in moving your social media followers to take action, but then made it impossible for them to donate easily online, you’ve lost a big opportunity to raise funds.

    Make the process of donating in a few clicks safe, secure and seamless. Add an easy-to-use, secure donation management plugin like DonorBox to your website and directly link to your donation appeal on your social pages so your followers can donate in a couple clicks.

    Make It Shareable
    Understand the psychology behind social sharing and tweak your content to see what your followers are most likely to share. You’ll not only increase your following, but also inspire your new fans to follow their friends’ lead and also make donations to your cause.

    Coming up with a creative campaign with inspiring events, videos and strategic hashtags around a moving theme can also turn those lurkers among your followers into active donors ready to share and give.

    Maintain
    The shelf life of a social media post is only a few days or weeks at best.

    This means that even if you’ve had a huge success, it’ll just be a matter of time before your viral campaign is a distant memory for most people.

    Try to maintain your followers’ interest by creating different types of social media campaigns that can be run seasonally. Think strategically and make data-based decisions. Test different ideas to see what works best. Study the analytics made available by the different platforms to see who is engaging and sharing.

    This Medium blog post offers some helpful tips for strategic ways to maximize fundraising through social media.

    One not-so-small caveat: while it may seem like raising more than a million dollars via a viral social media campaign is the be all, end all of fundraising, you may be cannibalizing other fundraising efforts in your success. The best thing you can do is weave a social media component into an omni-channel campaign. Social media may be just one element of your fundraising strategy, and that’s okay.

    Want more? These five successful nonprofits got it right using social media to drive donations.

    About DonorBox
    Used by more than 20,000 organizations from 25 countries, DonorBox is a donation platform centered around the fundraising needs of nonprofits by offering a state-of-the-art, recurring donation plugin that can be seamlessly embedded into a website or with a popup widget, allowing nonprofit organizations to accept monthly recurring donations managed by the donors themselves.

    View a live example and sign up for free at donorbox.org.

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    Corporate Social Responsibility Is More Than a Marketing Ploy

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    For-profit companies traditionally operated within a set of rules dictated by the government, such as collecting and paying taxes or meeting state and federal regulations. Everyone accepted profit maximization as the goal, and it didn’t really matter how companies managed to achieve that mission.

    Today, many judge companies based on their broader impacts and whether they contribute to beneficial change. It’s definitely a positive shift, but new businesses must strike a delicate balance: Too much of a focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR) for a new brand over the effectiveness of the product or service can actually damage brand appeal. Researchers at North Carolina State University found that consumers view new brands as less enticing when their key messages focus on CSR more than the benefits of their products, even if they donate money to good causes.

    While consumers want to support brands that give back to the world, they are more concerned about the efficacy of new products. And who can blame them? Nobody wants to spend hard-earned money on a subpar product. When product quality is equal but one item comes from a company with a social mission, customers are more likely to choose the company with a focus on CSR, though.

    Patagonia stands out as an excellent example of effective CSR. The company aggressively incorporates environmental causes into its corporate DNA — and its customer base is just as aggressively loyal. Volkswagen, on the other hand, went out of its way to greenwash its corporate image by promoting “clean diesel” while flagrantly violating federal emissions laws with nitrogen-oxide emissions (a smog-forming pollutant linked to lung cancer). The disparity between VW’s mission and its actions had steep consequences.

    Finding the Right Fit

    CSR should be authentic to the soul of an organization — it should not be an add-on or a marketing ploy. Before committing to CSR, brands need to survey potential customers and brand ambassadors to ensure they focus on the right initiative.

    For smaller companies and startups, this could constitute a more informal process of casual interviews with a few dozen people coupled with the founders’ personal goals. Established companies will want to undergo more extensive research that includes surveys and in-depth focus groups with employees, customers, and potential customers. In both cases, companies must confirm that the CSR initiative resonates with potential customers while identifying any concerns that could alienate critical groups. Without genuine authenticity, it’s only a matter of time before an initiative fails — it’s imperative that the CSR mission resonates with the company, its staff, and its executives.

    Patagonia earned plenty of attention in 2016 for donating 100 percent of its profits from Black Friday sales to environmental groups. By literally putting its money — more than $10 million, in fact — where its mouth is, Patagonia proved its dedication to protecting natural resources. Considering a large swath of Patagonia’s clientele is environmentally conscious, that single day of sales truly resonated with brand loyalists.

    Once a company pinpoints the CSR initiative that meshes with its identity, its leaders must articulate the CSR mission internally and externally. That mission will likely evolve, but it should be authentic to ensure long-term success. A genuine effort at CSR initiatives can be a great way to motivate and empower employees.

    Internal CSR messaging focuses on culture and creating a universal message across the company. Everyone should understand the overlap between the CSR initiative and the company’s mission, as well as how the initiative affects every employee’s role. Externally, brands must simplify this messaging into an easy-to-understand version for consumers.

    I’ve had to tackle this challenge with my own company, 2920 Sleep. We have boiled down our CSR focus to three elements: a commitment to product quality, excellent customer service, and 1% for the Planet. We aspire to make high-quality, long-lasting products that will have a reduced environmental impact with lower return rates; take care of our customers with great service; and stay financially successful so we can channel one percent of our revenue to support organizations that protect the environment. Our commitment to product quality and customer service enables us to support our CSR initiative. This mission is driven by everyone at the company — from our leadership and marketing teams to our customer service department and our brand ambassadors.

    More than anything else, brands should ensure the CSR narrative is a part of the corporate culture. Think again of the difference between Patagonia and VW. Patagonia’s founder, management team, and employees all actively support its mission. VW, meanwhile, has lost brand integrity and market share, and its executives face significant fines and possible jail time.

    Consumers can spot the difference between pretenders and companies that are committed to a mission. CSR offers an opportunity to pivot a business from a purely financial operation to an organization that recognizes its ability to help a wider community in addition to meeting financial goals. With a balanced approach to CSR and business goals, companies can truly shine.

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