By Monica Hable, Denver Small Business Banker Manager, Bank of America
2020 was a challenging year for all. While small businesses nationwide faced unique obstacles brought on by the coronavirus, Black small business owners in particular have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic, with one study showing that half may not survive. However, with Colorado ranking #14 as the most supportive states for Black-owned businesses, there are many resources and services available to help Black entrepreneurs continue to adapt and chart a path toward economic recovery. Recently, Bank of America conducted a survey of 300 Black business owners across the country and found that they remained resilient and flexible as they navigated through an evolving and uncertain business landscape. In response to the impacts from the pandemic, 48% of Black entrepreneurs retooled their operations – double that of the national average. Many Black business owners also found creative ways to reinvent themselves by developing new products or services, and even more donated resources to support relief efforts in their local communities.
While it may be challenging to predict what exactly our path to economic recovery will look like, Black small businesses will play a significant role. To support this vision, Black entrepreneurs can take three steps to reignite growth and plan for financial success this year.
Reevaluate your business plan given today’s environment. Due to changing landscapes and environments, it’s critical to evolve and adjust your business plan by mapping out key areas of need and growth and identifying any potential risk areas that you may have uncovered during the pandemic. Ask yourself, how did your business track last year against the projections you made heading into 2020? Are there successes from the second half of 2020 you can build on? What solutions worked best for your business as you managed the impact of the coronavirus? As we’re still in a time of uncertainty, err on the side of caution and ensure your plan allows room for evolution and adjustment as needed.
Explore your financing options. Our team at Bank of America is taking steps to directly engage with minority business owners to ensure they have access to the tools and resources they need to secure funding. Our small business bankers will continue to support business owners as they navigate the Paycheck Protection Program process – as well as to discuss traditional loan product options to fit individual needs such as purchasing inventory, refinancing debt or financing account receivables. When exploring financing options, a few questions to consider include: What goals have you identified in your business plan that require additional financing? Are you looking to boost your headcount? Did you have expansion plans that you held off on? Are any structural or technological enhancements needed in the coming year? Once you identify your goals for 2021 and beyond, sit down with your small business banker to determine the right financing solution for you.
Bankers can also help connect business owners who may not qualify for traditional bank financing to our network of CDFI partners across the country, that are working to increase access to capital for business owners who have historically faced barriers. Bank of America is the largest investor in CDFIs in the U.S., with more than $1.6 billion in loans and investments to over 250 CDFIs, including the Colorado Enterprise Fund. We also recently committed $200 million to direct equity investments in Black- and Hispanic-Latino-owned businesses, to help supply growth capital as well as to invest substantially in programs to create future entrepreneurs.
Go digital. Businesses across the country have had to adjust aspects of their operations due to the public health crisis, including enhancing sanitation practices, changing primary revenue streams and shifting sales from brick-and-mortar to online. As we continue to adhere to social distancing requirements, consider banking digitally to limit in-person interactions, and free up time to remain focused on running your business. Connect with your banker on what digital options are available to you. For example, at Bank of America we offer a full suite of small business digital capabilities, including Cash Flow Monitor, a no-cost dashboard that provides an easy way to manage, track and project your business cash flow.
The pandemic created unprecedented obstacles for Black small business owners, challenging them to find new and innovative ways to meet the needs of their businesses, employees, customers and communities. Following the steps outlined above can help address whatever opportunities and challenges 2021 may bring. The news that is especially encouraging for the small business community in Denver is that our research found four-in-five Black entrepreneurs say that once we’re on the other side of the pandemic, they believe small business will return to being the backbone of the U.S. economy. We look forward to partnering with you and your business to make that a reality!
By Krystal Covington, Marketing Consultant
📍 Broad requests for connections never get returned.
I recently spoke with a business development associate for a real estate company who asked for introductions to anyone who hosts or attends events regularly. The ask was so broad I froze and had to be reminded 3 times to help her.
Requests that are extremely broad are difficult to take action on. Being more specific helps people act quickly by giving them a clear picture of who to refer.
The challenge here is that I know hundreds of people who host or attend events, so I can’t determine where to start. A more specific task would be to ask for an event host who does lots of tech events in the city of Denver. That’s much easier for me to pinpoint in my broad connection base.
📍Don’t just ask for customers. Think about the people they interact with.
If you’re a writer who works with personal injury attorneys you may think about who those attorneys are interacting with regularly. Are they talking to certain medical experts? Do they go to the city and talk with local court liaisons? Are they interacting with financial companies to discuss settlements?
Learn their processes and daily habits and ask for intros to people who are also closely interacting with your target client in a non-competitive way.
📍 Bring value.
What’s valuable and impactful for the people you’re asking to meet? If they’re well connected already or in a busy season they may not be open to a simple chat, even with an intro. It’s important to find a solid entry point that adds value and compensates for the use of their time.
For example, a writer who wanted to work with me offered to review some content and give bullet points for how he might improve it if offered a job, and a marketing firm once offered up a free in-office training session to get considered for a contract.
Your value offer needs to be in line with the level of financial investment your product requires, so you’ll want to consider higher touch (more personal) opportunities for services and products with a higher monetary value over time.
Join us for our next WOD business development workshop to discuss your strategies and connect with other women in business.
The health of your mind and body has a direct correlation with your productivity and the quality of your work. Some of the most highly productive people in the world are also some of the healthiest. Even The CDC will inform you that “in general, healthy employees are more productive.” However, between balancing work, family, and social life it is often difficult to find the time to focus on our health. But do not fear! There are a few simple habits that you can incorporate into your day to boost your productivity, mood, and general well-being.
Get Up Earlier
Getting a jumpstart on the day is one of the easiest ways to increase your productivity. Numerous studies have shown that most highly successful people are early risers, with most billionaires waking up around 4:00 am, according to Psychology Today. Waking up just an hour before your usual alarm can give you extra time to read, journal, meditate, cook a healthy breakfast, or spend a few extra minutes setting up your day for success.
Get Quality Sleep
While waking up early can set up your day for success, the real journey to a successful day begins the night before. Many people believe that because they are sleeping the recommended 8 hours of sleep they should be waking up feeling refreshed and ready for the day. However, not all sleep is created equally. In order to get a “good night's sleep” experts say that you need to fall asleep within 30 minutes and stay asleep for more of the night. This quality of sleep can be affected by stress, lighting, room temperature, nighttime routine, and daily intake of stimulants. To increase your productivity and overall quality of life you must be getting quality rest during these hours. Tip: Waking up earlier is also proven to help with the quality of your sleep.
Stick to a Routine
From sleeping routine to daily routine, keeping each day's routine similar to the day before is important for increasing productivity. Going to sleep and waking up at roughly the same time each day is one of the easiest ways to get your routine on a positive track. Choosing to eat each meal at roughly the same time each day is another simple habit that can increase your overall health and aid your body to properly digest your food and extract the nutrients needed to keep you full and focused all day. A simple way to ensure that you are sticking to a routine is to time block your day. This means taking a few moments to write out exactly what tasks need to be completed and when you are going to complete them. This habit will not only add to your productivity but will also help to ensure you stay organized and meet your deadlines.
Move Your Body
A healthy body equals a healthy mind. Sitting at a desk all day is one of the most detrimental things that you can do to your health. Use that extra hour in the mornings, or at night, to get up and go for a walk, do some yoga, or even a few jumping jacks. Bonus points if you can use this time to exercise outside as nothing is better for your mind and body than some fresh air and sunlight. Another easy way to get your body moving is to time block in a few minutes each hour to get up and do a few quick exercises. With consistency, you will begin to see incredible results from committing to just a few minutes a day. Getting up and moving can also help to improve your mood and energy levels helping you to become your most productive self throughout the day. Regular exercise can also help to promote quality sleep, which by now you know is important.
Focus on Incorporating Whole Foods Into Your Diet
Instead of reaching for that candy bar, soda, or coffee for your mid-day pick me up, focus on incorporating healthy, whole snacks. Tip: if it has more than a few ingredients on the label, it probably doesn't fall into this category. “Adequate nutrition can raise productivity levels by 20 percent on average” according to WHO. This is because healthy foods contain vital vitamins and nutrients that help to stimulate our cognitive functions. While we're on the topic of nutrition, don't forget the importance of staying hydrated. Experts recommend that the average adult drink 75-150 ounces of water daily.
Take Time for Mindfulness and Meditation
Meditation is one of the oldest practices for improving your health, and there's a reason that this practice has stood the test of time! Science says that meditation can help to decrease stress, enhance creativity, and improve memory and focus. Along with increasing blood flow to your brain which can help increase productivity. The amount of time that you should set aside each day to practice meditation and mindfulness varies from person to person, but a good number to aim for is 20 minutes a day.
About the writer, Brenda Geer
By Ellen Lichtenstein, MA
Owner, Just Add Communications LLC
Being a business owner is, apparently, in my blood.
My father, mother, grandfather, aunt, and three different uncles are just the first business-owning relatives who come to mind. In fact, my great-grandfather, a Russian immigrant, started peddling goods out of a wagon until he was successful enough to open a shop. His entrepreneurship must have trickled down by nature, nurture, or both.
While some people might see starting a business as a major undertaking—and, don’t get me wrong, it is!—I have spent my life surrounded by people who did it, and succeeded. This might have led to a false sense of confidence when it came to starting my own company. Or, it might have made me more realistic about the challenges and rewards of being self-employed. After all, I spent my adolescence with my stepdad married to his cordless phone, invisibly tethered to a 100-foot radius around his home office, lest he miss an incoming call from a customer. This was before cell phones were widely available.
When I began to contemplate going into business for myself early in 2020, the idea only appealed to me on an emotional level. I reveled in the thrill of independence: the freedom to do what I wanted, when I wanted, and how I wanted. On the rational side, it scared me to death and didn’t sound like a good idea. AT ALL.
It was only after realizing I couldn’t continue in my current full-time role and maintain any sense of mental and physical wellness; only after I was rejected by several promising companies with lengthy interview processes; only when I realized that no “boss” would ever value my work the way I did, that the “choice” to start my own company became a calling.
I use the word “calling” very intentionally. As anyone who’s ever done it will tell you, starting a company is hard work. Long hours and hustling for every client, all so you can spend a year (or more) being unprofitable: this is what you’re told to expect. I don’t know anyone who would choose that if they didn’t feel called to it. This deep sense of knowing with certainty that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be is one thing that keeps me going when the frustrations pile up.
It’s now been six months since I took the plunge. I have no regrets, but I’ve come to a few realizations along the way. No doubt, the lessons will keep coming on a regular basis! I am by no means old, wise, or seasoned in this business stuff. But, in the spirit of giving (it is Christmas, after all!), I am sharing the six biggest lessons I’ve learned in my first six months.
One: There's probably never a "good time" to do something risky
It was June 2020: I saw talented friends and colleagues being laid off and struggling to find work. Leaving a job intentionally did not seem like the smartest idea. A good salary, benefits, a secure position that could easily be done remotely: why would anyone walk away from that in middle of a pandemic?
I also realized, much like other things in life, there’s never a “good time” to take a major risk. How many times do we put things off, waiting for the exact right moment, only to never actually do them?
Like the diet we’ll start after the next holiday, or the vacation we’ll take when we have the free time. It dawned on me how true the saying is: The best time to start something was yesterday. The next-best time is now.
Two: If people believed in me, it was for good reason
Who among us doesn’t suffer from at least the occasional bought of imposter syndrome? When I first started floating the idea of going into business for myself, I was shocked (SHOCKED, I tell you!) by the responses.
“Oh, that’s wonderful! You are going to be amazing!”
“This is perfect for you. You’re going to love it!”
Not a single person said any of the things I was thinking. No one questioned if I was good enough at my work, if I was organized enough, disciplined enough, or whether I had fully thought it through.
Though I had my doubts at first, I figured everyone I knew couldn’t be so wildly wrong. Turns out, they were absolutely right.
Three: Self-promotion isn’t selfish
I had this nightmare. I would build an amazing website and announce to everyone in my network that I’m self-employed and open for business. And then, crickets. I dreaded the thought of having to bug people and remind them I’m available for work. I feared coming across as self-serving if I mentioned my business in casual conversation.
Turns out, I was entirely wrong. No sooner had I updated my LinkedIn, than I started to get messages from friends, former colleagues, and even businesses I’d patronized in the past. They needed websites designed, blogs written, and communication strategies formed. I cannot tell you how many times I reached out to someone just to let them know I have a business in case they ever needed anything, only to have their first response be, “It’s so good to hear from you! I am in desperate need of your services!”
I realized my potential clients need me as much as I need them, and it does neither of us any good for me to be shy about what I’m up to.
Four: If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life
As cliché as it sounds, I have to admit it’s a little bit true. Now, there are parts of running my own business that I absolutely hate. Like the time I had to “fire” a client, or when I have to remind someone to pay an invoice more than once or twice.
But, when I’m doing the parts I love? Absolutely! I’ll spend five hours designing a pitch deck for a TV network without coming up for air. I get engrossed in my writing, video editing, or any other creative pursuit, and I’m lost to world.
What would you do if you didn’t need to earn a living? My answer is, pretty much, exactly what I do now. That’s how I know I’m on the right track.
Five: Say ‘yes’ and figure it out later
The first three clients I had were in need of a website. I am NOT a web designer. I was, however, in need of clients. This lesson actually isn’t a new one for me: I’ve made a career out of agreeing to do things I’ve never done before and then learning how to do them along the way.
I know my limits. It’s not like I would agree to fly an airplane! But, within the confines of reality, I am a huge proponent of faking it until you make it. It’s been an incredible challenge—and blessing—to take on jobs I wasn’t really sure how to do. As they say, that’s where the magic happens.
Six: Sometimes, I really need to take my own advice
The premise of my business is simple: Let me handle your communications so you can focus on what you’re best at. At the same time, I spent my first few months trying to also be my own accountant. Because that’s definitely my area of expertise and the best use of my time, right?
Let’s just say, not so much.
As lesson number five indicates, my instinct is to assume I can do everything, even if I don’t know how. While this has served me well within my field of expertise, the same cannot be said for all the times I’ve tried to be my own accountant, lawyer, or dentist. It’s like I’m always telling people: some things are best left to the professionals!
Taking my own advice and handing things over to the experts has been difficult. It costs money (and, if there’s one thing a new small business doesn’t have…) but I’ve realized outsourcing these things is a necessity. I’ve also learned that it costs more in the long run to try to cut corners, and costs, at the start.
As I reflect back on my first six months in business, it feels surreal. It’s scary, exciting, and liberating. Most of all, though, it’s empowering.
In fifteen years of professional work prior to this, I often felt unsatisfied. Regardless of the industry, company, or job title, it never felt right.
I wanted to do things I love and am good at, not be assigned menial tasks that bored me. I craved to be recognized for my individuality, not told to conform. I wished for the freedom to innovate instead of being told to follow procedures. Not least of all, I wanted to get paid what I was worth, rather than seeing others profit off my work and barely getting a fraction of the value I provided.
Starting my own business, as terrifying as it was (and still is), has solved these problems. Of all the lessons I learned in the first six months, this one may actually be the most important.
Seven: There was never anything wrong with me. I was always good enough. I just wasn’t in the right place, or with the right people, to realize it. Until now.
About the writer, Ellen Lichtenstein
Ellen Lichtenstein (pronouns: she or they) is the Owner and Founder of Just Add Communications LLC, where she specializes in providing marketing, communication, and content creation services to businesses of all sizes. Her diverse range of clients spans from independent insurance agencies to media companies to large software and technology firms, and beyond.
Prior to starting Just Add Communications, Ellen spent eight years producing and casting documentary and non-fiction television, followed by seven years working in content and communications within the insurance industry.
Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Ellen has lived and worked up and down the East Coast, throughout the Midwest, and now calls Denver, Colorado home. She received her B.S. in Communication Studies from New York University and her M.A. in Communications from Johns Hopkins University.
Outside of her primary business, Ellen is passionate about horses and volunteers with The Right Step, Inc. therapeutic riding center. She is currently launching her second business, Leg Up Learning Solutions LLC, which provides both riding instruction and Equine Facilitated Learning to help individuals and groups become better listeners, leaders, and communicators through working with horses.
We're excited to showcase the newest member of the Power Women, Julie Reichenberger, Owner and Mental Health Practitioner at Denver Metro Counseling. With her growing practice, her team supports the local community by providing counseling support for individuals navigating transitions, and seeking overall wellness for their mental health.
Learn more about this Colorado leader in her Q&A below.
What unique impact do you make on the world through your work?
I help people live rich, meaningful lives by helping them to figure out what obstacles get in the way, how to work through and overcome those obstacles, and then support them while they do the work.
Tell us about a recent accomplishment you're proud of?
In 2020 I hired my third clinician, became an Approved Clinical Supervisor, was EMDR Certified and am an EMDR Consultant In Training.
What actions do you take to support and empower other women?
I support them in their personal and professional growth with enthusiasm, collaboration and financially as I am able. I created my business so that other women therapists/counselors/psychologists could have a positive, supportive place to help clients.
In my line of work, people often burn out and don't receive the emotional, mental, professional development supports that could help them flourish and have a longer, meaningful career they feel good about. I strive to create this space in my life professionally and personally by empowering and supporting the women in my life.
How did your career take off, and what do you attribute your success to most?
I started in Public Health and transitioned into Mental Health. I attended graduate school in Chicago and worked with a psychologist there who co-founded a group private practice with another colleague. While working with this group, I learned the value of networking, forming healthy peer relationships, working hard, flexibility, patience, persistence, open-mindedness and how to manage conflict. After leaving this practice, I moved to Denver and returned to public health while I learned more about the mental health community here in Colorado.
Once I established an understanding of resources and got to know other practitioners in the Denver-Metro area, I started my private practice. I attribute my success to all of the relationships I have had along the way. I have had the very honored opportunity to work with some strong, hustling women who taught me everything from the person I want to be and what I want to steer away from. I am grateful for all my experiences.
How do you keep yourself passionate and driven regardless of how busy you are day to day?
I surround myself with others who are also passionate in their work. I rest and practice yoga, mindfulness, pilates and listen to learn. I see how my work impacts others' lives and how those I surround myself with personally and professionally also impact others' lives. I believe in therapy whole heartedly and that people don't have to suffer alone. I am inspired by the creative process of both the clinical and business aspects of my work. Both keep me balanced.
What do you see as the future of your industry?
More trauma-focused and mindfulness practices. I see the industry becoming more collaborative and holistic overall. There needs to be a change in accessibility for all in need and that is a hope I have.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever received?
Spread your wings and fly.
What's been inspiring you lately?
My clients. They inspire me every week. They are showing up and doing their work for them.
What do you love most about Women of Denver?
I love the giving back nature of WOD. I love that women are supporting other women and lifting them up.
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Contributed by Lily Crager
This disparity cascades as if fewer women are promoted to mid-level, then fewer women get the chance at a promotion to senior-level and onward.
While it’d be easy to demand corporate response, companies move at a turtle-pace when implementing social change and undoing traditional bias. It’s up to us to empower women to hurdle over this broken rung. Here are a few things to do:
Despite the concerning impact of the pandemic on women in the workplace and the challenge of the “broken rung”, there are still indicators that women will continue to advance in the workplace. There is a rising number of women attending business school and women representation on company boards is at a record high. Proving that in the face of adversity, an empowered attitude is necessary to propel ahead.
Sources: McKinsey | GreatBusinessSchool | PayScale | Guider
Here at Women of Denver, we get asked regularly for a list of diversity professionals in the city to support local diversity initiatives.
Below is a short list of consultants and trainers who have presented to our group or come highly recommended by members.
Dr. Nita Mosby Taylor, The Equity Project: Dr. Mosby Tyler, a consultant accredited by the Georgetown University National Center for Cultural Competence, is nationally recognized for her equity work with non-profit, community, government and for-profit organizations. In her work, Dr. Mosby-Tyler specializes in the development and delivery of leadership, equity, diversity, cultural responsiveness and inclusiveness training programs and strategies.
Karyn Lu, Megan Abman, and Regina Motarjeme, Strata: Strata is a team of fractional Chief Inclusion Officers providing startups with DEI and Culture planning and training.
Mo Abdullah, Culture Energized: Mo has worked with over 60 schools and organizations across the U.S in creating positive culture through professional development trainings. In addition, she has over 5 years experience working in the education and non profit sector servicing over 2,500 students, teachers and professionals on social emotional learning, group management and youth leadership. With her electrifying facilitation style, she has been able to impact diverse groups of people while shining light on the issues that matter!
Dr. Nicole Gravagna, NeuroEQ: The company provides empathy-focused training programs that include leadership strategy, unconscious bias training, executive coaching, culture assessments, and vendor analysis.
An additional list of resources can be found here: http://equitysolutions.io/equityconsultants.html
Isolation and social distancing rules implemented during March propelled a whirlwind of chaos for a myriad of business owners. Several had to close doors and lay off employees temporarily, forcing many companies to come up with creative, innovative solutions to keep their business afloat.
In this article, we will highlight three company owners who pivoted like a boss—pun intended. The following three ladies faced the challenges posed by COVID-19 head-on, and they worked endlessly to shift their business to stay relevant.
Read on to find out how three out-of-box thinkers shifted their business over the last few months!
1. Marta Spirk, Empowerment Coach & Speaker
Marta Spirk is an empowerment coach and speaker for women. She started working in this field almost four years ago, after becoming a mom. She had triplets in 2016 in Brazil and moved to the US when the babies were 9-months-old. The move pushed her to find time for herself and pay attention to her thoughts, feelings, and needs.
How did the pandemic affect her business, and what did she do to pivot?
Before COVID-19 hit, Marta had been focusing on in-person events, and workshops for women empowerment. At these workshops, she would have panels of ladies sharing their stories and expertise. On top of all of this, she also provided training, helping women see their beauty and worth within themselves.
Because of the shutdown, the innovative empowerment coach had to revert to an online focus, which worked in her favor.
Marta grew her membership with more students who were looking for community and support during this time.
Her virtual self-improvement site, The Empowered Woman School, is a safe space for women to take time for their personal development while creating meaningful connections and strong friendships with other women.
What internal and external changes did she have to go through to achieve her new way of doing things?
The mother of three had to revert to online because of the shutdown of in-person events. Marta thrives off of the energy exploding throughout get-togethers, so the shift propelled some sadness, naturally. However, she noticed that connecting with women in-person helped elevate her exposure. Most of the ladies that have joined her school are local.
When things go back to normal, she plans to pick the events back up but will continue focusing on growing the school online because it is a lot more practical to coordinate weekly meetings via Zoom.
Being "locked up" confirmed that she loves meeting in person, but it also showed her the power of being resourceful, adapting, and that women crave connection no matter how it happens. It also unveiled how her passion lies in helping women share their voice and stories - it empowers her, them, and everyone listening!
Where can you find out more about Marta and her business?
Visit her website: https://www.martaspirk.com/. On July 30, she's hosting a workshop to help women "overcome insecurities in uncertain times." The event asks women to come together to share stories of how they've overcome challenges and circumstances. She hopes attendees will keep "each other accountable to personal development and personal growth!"
2. Pam Foley, SEO Copywriting & Content Marketing Creative