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Expert Advice

5 Important Small Business Tax Tips from a CPA

Let’s be honest. Small business taxes are straight-up hard. This is true whether you’re a new solopreneur or a seasoned entrepreneur. To make things easier, we consulted a CPA for small business tax tips. Small Business Tax Challenges Certainly, complex tax laws and ever-changing regulations are a challenge for all small business owners. After all, you’re focused on running your business, not on being an IRS whisperer! Thankfully, there are experts out there who are just that and they’re here to help.  To that end, we spoke with Shiloh Johnson, longtime CPA and founder of ComplYant. Complyant is a digital tax assistant that offers small businesses and entrepreneurs a simple way to manage tax rules and regulations. Below, Shiloh shares some small business tax tips to help entrepreneurs with paying taxes.  “As an entrepreneur, it can be easy to assume that the government is out to make life harder for small business owners with these tenuous tax rules." However, she assures us that isn't actually the case. "There are lots of exemptions and loopholes that can be taken advantage of if you just know where to look."  Small Business Tax Tips Following that, here are a few specific small business tax tips from Shiloh. Helpfully, these tips will prepare you for tax time and may even lower your tax bill.   1. Remember: Sales Tax Is Not Income First, be diligent in your accounting to avoid overestimating your taxable income. “Be careful not to report sales tax received from customers as income," Shiloh warns.  Instead, make a payable account and call it Sales Tax Payable. Put the portion of sales tax received from customers in that account."  "Payable accounts are liability accounts, and funds are used to make your sales tax payments to the tax authorities. By doing this correctly you will avoid inflating your income and inaccurately reporting the income of your business.”  Similarly, you'll want to keep track of your business expenses. For more help tracking your income and finances check out our collection of guides on Organizing Your Finances. 2. Know Your Required Business License(s) Secondly, make sure you understand your local licensing requirements. “Many businesses do not know they need a business license to operate in their state, county, or city.  Certain business types may require professional licenses." In this case, you are likely to need a state and local license to operate. Further, keep these up to date. "You will need to obtain and renew these licenses on time and regularly. Check with your city or local municipality for license requirements.” Head over to our Set Up Your Business milestone to learn more about obtaining your sales tax license and determining your permit needs. 3.  Be Careful With Profit Loss Thirdly, avoid being hit by hobby loss rules by keeping watch on your business profits. “Continual loss may cause your business to be seen as a hobby," Shiloh says. "If you have a business that routinely takes losses you might be in for an audit.” The IRS’s hobby loss rules require a business to show a profit on a regular basis. The IRS has a list they use to determine if your business qualifies as a hobby or an actual business. These rules are located in sec 183 under "hobby loss rules.”  4. Exempt Your Property Tax If Possible Fourthly, check to see if you qualify for property tax exemptions as a small business.  “Many small businesses qualify for property tax exemption under their state and local law ordinances. All you have to do is ask," Shiloh says. However, there are typically requirements for approval. “Qualifiers for the exemption typically include, but are not limited to, the business’s location and annual income.”  5. Watch S-Corp Election Timing Finally, get savvy on s-corp elections—ideally, with the support of a knowledgable CPA. The S-Corp Election is not a legal entity. It’s an election you can make to be classified as an S-corp for tax purposes. That way, any profit over and above your reasonable compensation will not be subject to self-employment tax, just income tax.  If you make $100K but your reasonable compensation is $40K, the remaining $60K is only subject to income tax, not self-employment tax. That's a big break. However, it's important to note the timing of the election window. “The S-corporation election window for an existing business is within the first two months and 15 days after the start of the tax year you are selecting the election. This election allows an LLC to be taxed as a corporation.”  According to Shiloh, some benefits of this election include: Protected assets Tax favorable categorization of income Straightforward transfer of ownership No double taxation With that said, make sure you’re working with a CPA who understands S-Corps elections. There might be circumstances where taking the election won't be beneficial for you. Further, it can come with additional administrative burdens as well. Finally, Shiloh leaves us with one last all encompassing piece of advice: "Always remember, when in doubt get organized.”  More Small Business Tax Resources As an additional resource, check out this webinar we had with Shiloh for an in-depth conversation about tax prep for small businesses: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcuTN5qOnXI For more information, check out these Hello Alice guides and milestones that can also help you come tax season: Understand Your Tax Obligations Know Your Business Tax Deductions Claim the R&D Tax Credit File Your Federal Business Taxes Set Up Your Business About Shiloh Johnson Shiloh Johnson, CPA, has written course content for the National Association of Tax Professionals. She is a member of the Institute for Professionals in Taxation, American Institute of CPAs, and the National Association of Black Accountants. She fights for the underserved. Significantly, she believes that the color of your skin should not impact your likelihood of success. In following that, everyone deserves complete and accurate fiscal guidance and financial success.  Notably, Shiloh Johnson was recently awarded a startup grant by the Annenberg Foundation and Pledge LA. She has also received capital from Mucker Lab and Slauson & Co. Last but not least, Shiloh is also participating in Grid110 and Techstars LA accelerators. About ComplYant ComplYant’s mission is to ensure that organizations of all colors, shapes, and sizes have access to accurate fiscal guidance. Markedly, they are rooted in the firm belief that complex tax laws and nuanced regulations often create barriers for small or underrepresented business owners.  For more small business tips and inspiration create a free account on Hello Alice or subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Mar 16, 2022 • 4 min read
Expert Advice

3 Top Small Business Trends, According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

What 2022 small business trends can we expect? An expert advises. A lot has happened in recent years, including and especially a global pandemic. And yet, 4.3 million new businesses filed paperwork in 2020 and 79% of small businesses are optimistic about future growth. This positive outlook makes perfect sense to U.S. Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Small Business Policy Tom Sullivan. “Entrepreneurs solve problems,” Sullivan explained. “Well, when has there been more problems in such a short period of time than the pandemic?” In fact, he believes the dire situation ultimately brought out the best in small businesses. 2022 Small Business Trends Here are three takeaways from a recent discussion between Hello Alice and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 1. Small Businesses Will Keep Tackling Transportation, Logistics, and Delivery When the world closed up shop, entrepreneurs and small businesses did not. Instead, they found ways to make sure they could bring products to people — whether their own or those of other businesses. As an example, Sullivan pointed to the rise of curbside pickup. When big box stores don’t offer delivery, small business pickup services have stepped in to fill in the gaps, rising to the challenge of logistics while seeing these gaps as opportunities instead of failings. “The data shows that when that spike of new startups happened, they primarily were in transportation, logistics, and delivery,” Sullivan said. 2. With Slow Supply Chains, SMBs Look Local If you remember the infamous moment in March, 2021, when a container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal, you probably appreciate the downstream effects a single blocked boat can cause. When a business — of any size — can’t acquire the goods they need to serve their customers, that business ceases to turn a profit and, by extension, exist as a viable venture. “Those small businesses that rely more on supply chains to get a product or service out the door, they're starting to pivot so that they rely less,” Sullivan explained. “This is another example where small businesses are stepping back and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, what is a core competency I can do that doesn't rely entirely on a global supply chain?’” By moving manufacturing in-house, some small businesses are even providing more domestic jobs and lowering their overall cost of goods in the long run. Likewise, reliable local solutions now look more competitive to any business sourcing materials from abroad.  3. Omnichannel is the Future (and Present) The state of shopping forever changed with the creation of the internet, but the global pandemic solidified e-commerce not just as a staple. That doesn’t mean in-person transactions are a thing of the past, though. “Omnichannel is my word of the year for 2022,” Sullivan said. “It means that when someone decides to purchase a good or a service, it's no longer either an in-person interaction or an online interaction — it's both.” The world has embraced take-out for everything, from groceries to backyard grills. And small businesses have filled in those gaps, innovating to address these new needs. As 2022 picks up momentum, we hope the projected optimism of entrepreneurs stays strong and continues to grow. After all, adversity breeds innovation, as we’ve seen. But don’t let this optimism get in the way of putting in the work. “You have a choice if you want to be at the table,” warned Sullivan. “You can either have a seat or be on the menu.” Check out the entire recording of the Hello Alice and US Chamber of Commerce talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ZBsYya3X8Y For more small business tips and inspiration create a free account on Hello Alice or subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Feb 17, 2022 • 3 min read
Expert Advice

6 Experts’ Instagram and TikTok Advice for Small Business Owners

Social media platforms present entrepreneurs with valuable brand awareness and storytelling tools. And with no or low barriers to entry and cost-effective marketing resources, platforms are accessible and prime for entrepreneurs. But with thriving social media pages now expected by consumers, navigating the platforms and optimizing digital marketing has become less of an “extra” and more of a “necessity!” However, with the right Instagram and TikTok advice for small business owners you can effectively grow your audience and improve engagement. To help you achieve your social media goals in 2022, the Year of Small Business, we asked a panel of social media and digital marketing experts and entrepreneurs to share their top social media and digital marketing tips, plus their go-to resources!  1. Be consistent "Consistency, consistency, consistency. TikTok is a short form, entertainment platform. When it comes to posting, post as consistently as possible, as that increases the likelihood and chances you will be able to connect with your audience. The more consistent you are, the better you will get at understanding the nature and dynamics of the platform."Martin Vilata, onboarding specialist for TikTok 2. Start small with paid social and experiment "You never know what will blow up, especially when it comes to video content nowadays on TikTok or Instagram Reels! In terms of paid media, my advice is to start with a small budget so you don't waste money while learning who your most interested audience is."Mayisha Siddiqui, digital marketing consultant for Lemon HQ and designer at Defoe & Co. Jewelry 3. Post daily "My top social media tip is to show up everyday. If I’ve learned anything from both running my own business and growing on social media, it’s that growth doesn’t happen overnight. In order to build something and gain momentum, you have to show up and put in the work every day. Show up on the days where you feel good and the days that you don’t. Show up when you want to and when you don’t want to. Nothing beats showing up and being consistent for your audience. Posting once and ghosting doesn’t give your audience something to rely on and doesn’t allow them to build a relationship with you."Caitlin Campbell, owner of Street Brew Coffee 4. Don't judge yourself too harshly "Start creating content. No matter how bad you think it is, you will learn to create better content over time and people want to see themselves in others."Andre Smith, owner of loungefit. 5. Don't compare yourself to others "Don’t compare your account or success to others. When you can see another person’s “success” with a simple swipe or a tap, it can be easy to compare and doubt. You are just as creative and capable as anyone else on the platforms. If you find yourself playing the comparison game, put your blinders on. Don’t focus on them, focus on your business, on your customers. If you were your customer, what would you want to see? What would you want to know about the products or services you provide? Utilize trends, graphics, and videos to answer these needs!"Kaitlyn Manktelow, social media manager for Hello Alice 6. Have fun with your social media "Don’t feel like you have to work for social media. Let it work for you. Not every trend, feature, or even platform will be ideal for you and your small business. Find what works and what you feel comfortable with, and then go all in. And have fun with it! There’s nothing more engaging than a smile and a laugh. Have fun, take your followers on your entrepreneurship ride, and genuine connections will follow!"Danielle Telleria, senior manager of marketing for Hello Alice Resources:  To get more Instagram and TikTok advice for small business check out this recording of our social media webinar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHPgRuW2phc For more help with your small business social media, check out these additional resources. #SmallBizBigGame campaign on TikTokEstablish Your Presence on Social Media, a FREE Hello Alice resourceGet Started On TikTok, a FREE Hello Alice resource in partnership with TikTok Create Scroll-Stopping Content on TikTok, a FREE Hello Alice resource in partnership with TikTokBoost your results with TikTok, a FREE Hello Alice resource in partnership with TikTokCanva, a simple graphic design platformHootsuite, a social media management platformHootsuite blogLater.com blogMilkshake, a FREE website/link in bio building app Follow, Head of Instagram Adam MosseriGuide to social media graphic sizesFacebook blueprint courses Facebook marketing mastery on Udemy Social media today, an online communityTrendtok app, a tool for finding trending sounds and popular hashtags on TikTok For more small business tips and inspiration create a free account on Hello Alice or subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Feb 8, 2022 • 3 min read
Expert Advice

A Winning Process for Small Business Goal Setting

Being a small business owner often requires living in the present and working on one challenge at a time. However, it’s worth setting aside a few precious hours to plan for long-term goals. Doing so ensures your valuable time is working towards a bigger picture. To that end, Hello Alice’s VP of Product, Kelsey Ruger, hosted a live virtual workshop on goal setting for the new year with help from small business owners. Here is the process he shares for small business goal setting. 1. Clarify Your Strategy Before setting any goals, make sure you understand the market and the strategy your small business uses to transfer value to customers. Typically, Kelsey explains, companies fall into one of three different strategies: CostDifferentiationNiche Besides doing your own self-reflection on this point, consider surveying customers. Do customers see the same value that you do? “What I’m doing is going back to my customers that have purchased from me several times and getting on Zoom and asking them questions about what they would like to see from me,” says small business owner Sandra Lucia Diaz. Her Etsy store Fearless Yaya celebrates the Latinx community with artwork, greeting cards, and more.  2. Narrow Your Focus After identifying your key value proposition, you can start to target specific areas to zero in on.  “You’d be surprised how many people start doing things without really fully understanding what they’re working toward,” Kelsey shares. “And that’s a big problem if you’re running a business because you could spend a lot of time, energy, and money working on something just to find out that it’s not the right thing to do.”  Ask yourself the following questions to further define areas of opportunity: Do you know what you are working toward? Do you know the biggest problem/opportunity?Are you able to articulate the problem/opportunity?Have you assessed if your ideas are viable?Have you decided which ideas to test? 3. Collect and Curate Ideas Once you’ve narrowed your focus to different areas of the business to focus on, start to brainstorm specific ideas to support these areas. Be sure to include your team to maximize brain power in the room!  For this stage, Kelsey recommends working with either physical or digital post-it notes.  “Post-it notes are the best tool out there for the mindframe of putting things up but knowing we may not stick with them," he explains. "We want to be able to move them around." At Hello Alice, we use Miro for the digital experience.)  For this step, try bucketing your observations and ideas into three different categories: What’s workingWhat’s not working What could we start doing?  Set a timer for each category and get as many ideas out as possible. Then, you might try to re-organize ideas by business function. For example, you can group stickies into the following areas: Product DevelopmentOperationsMarketingHiringSales From there you can prioritize which specific ideas will have the maximum impact for different teams and start executing!  How Often to Set Goals How often should small business owners set goals? Quarterly? Annually? Every five years? “A lot of it is going to be dependent on what business you’re in, what that marketplace looks like, and what you’re trying to accomplish,” says Kelsey. We recommend at least annually, if not more regularly. You may also want to reset goals after major disruptions to the business. More Resources Watch the full workshop video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unfIAQ6_Fp4 Interested in more tips on this topic? Be sure to join Hello Alice to access the following free guides to set your small business up for the year ahead: Create a Vision Statement Identify Key Priorities Build an Annual Roadmap And subscribe to our weekly newsletter to be first to know about future events and workshops for small business owners. 
Dec 14, 2021 • 3 min read
Women Entrepreneur Q&A

4 Pieces of Advice for Women Starting Businesses

Did you know that women are the fastest growing entrepreneurial demographic in the United States? (1) To celebrate this quickly growing sector of small business owners Hello Alice Co-Founder Elizabeth Gore spoke with Natalie Madeira Cofield. Natalie is not only an entrepreneur herself with almost fifteen years of experience but also the assistant administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership. Together they discussed their experience and advice for women starting businesses. Read our key takeaways here and view the full Q&A recording below for our insights. About the Office of Women’s Business Ownership All entrepreneurs face many challenges as they build their businesses. However, women entrepreneurs were subject to unique legislative obstacles not that long ago. Natalie explained that her office was codified during the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988.  “At that time, part of the legislation was about ensuring that women didn’t have to have a male co-signer for loans,” she explained. Natalie’s office has worked hard to support women-owned businesses since then. Notably, she’s been in charge of an expansion of the Women’s Business Center network that has put $70 million to work in federal grants to women-led firms.  Tips for Women Starting Businesses Here are our biggest takeaways from Natalie’s conversation with Elizabeth on entrepreneurship: 1. Take advantage of grants and opportunities for small businesses.  In truth, Hello Alice’s origins are itself a testament to the power of grants.  “Don’t do this,” Elizabeth warned, “but we (she and co-founder Carolyn Rodz) basically maxed out our credit cards to start Hello Alice and pursue our dream. Then we heard about the SBA (Small Business Administration). We applied for an SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) grant and got $50,000. It was life-changing for us. It allowed us to move forward and build the technology in a time when, frankly, no one really believed in our idea or that small business owners were worth investing in.” [Hello Alice Guide: Learn About SBIR/STTR Awards]  There are so many different grants available, including grants for women-owned businesses, specifically. Entrepreneurs can easily apply for small business owner grants with a free account on Hello Alice. Additionally, you can check the SBA website for more grant opportunities or visit one of their Women’s Business Centers nationwide for guidance and support.   2. Prepare for pitfalls and persist with resilience. Hearing “no” is an inevitable part of entrepreneurship. As much as you can, embrace it as a learning opportunity.  “Natalie and I, both as entrepreneurs — especially women entrepreneurs — in our first round of funding got told no 200 times,” Elizabeth said. “I had a spreadsheet of every single one and it was so demoralizing. But then, you learn from the no’s. You get back on the horse. You keep applying.” As your business grows, she encouraged, you’ll hear less no’s. Until then? Keep applying and continuing building experience.  “If you want to build a recession-proof business, you’ve got to be resilient,” Natalie affirmed.  Additionally, consider financial resiliency by securing funding and lines of credit for emergencies before they happen. “Even if you don’t need something right now,” Elizabeth advised, “walk into that bank and get to know your banker and really try and plan out how to diversify your cash flow.” That way you’ll be ready when the unexpected happens.  3. Adapt with the times and your customer’s needs.  According to one report Natalie shared, 78% of women businesses had to pivot during the pandemic. (2) Both she and Elizabeth supported thinking customer-first and adapting to their changing needs. Natalie recommends being “prepared to make the essential changes to your business model that are going to meet your customers exactly where they are.” For instance, consider what lifestyle challenges you can solve for them at any given time. Furthermore, Natalie recommends embracing technology in your small business. “I think one of the things that the pandemic demonstrated to all of us was that people have to have an opportunity to engage with you in a digital way, whether that be purchasing your services or receiving communication from you,” she said. Ultimately, these digital touchpoints provide greater accessibility.  4. There is no better time to start and promote your small business.  “For all of us women, we tend to really think things through,” said Elizabeth. But while it’s important to plan, it’s also important to make it happen. Her advice? “I would say, go for it. Start that business. There couldn’t be a better time to start a business. I feel strongly about that,” she encouraged.  Now more than ever, administrations such as Natalie’s are turning their attention to support small businesses. Q&A Recording For more insights, you can view the full Q&A recording here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVgl2nyn98E More Resources for Women Starting Businesses Subscribe to our weekly newsletter for more small business advice and to be the first to know about future events with industry experts to ask your own questions live.  You can also check out these recommended resources from Elizabeth and Natalie: The Small Business Growth Fund The Hello Alice Funding Center The Small Business Grants Forum on Hello Alice The Office of Women's Business Ownership The Official Website of the U.S. Small Business Administration 
Nov 16, 2021 • 3 min read
Expert Advice

Why Community Is an Essential Ingredient to Small Business Success

Priscilla Presley and Lauren Cheek understand that mentorship is important to a female entrepreneur’s business growth. That’s why the duo started The Forward Female, an L.A.-based consulting and creative agency, to help women start businesses and find community. The agency functions as part in-house creative studio, part coaching program for woman entrepreneurs, providing everything from full-service branding to business mentorship. Presley and Cheek also created a networking app to foster digital accountability within its community so that women can connect with other woman founders, attend workshops, and ask for advice. The founders also recently launched the #YouGrowGirl initiative, a tour highlighting more than 20 L.A. small businesses on social media throughout the month of April. Hello Alice spoke with Presley and Cheek to discuss the #YouGrowGirl initiative, the importance of community, and the biggest business lessons they’ve learned so far. How did the idea for The Forward Female come about? Lauren Cheek: Priscilla and I were both doing different things. Our circle of friends all knew and supported each other. We were really inspired by that because, especially with women, there’s often this mindset of competitiveness. We were like, 'How can we help kind of shift out of that and push people to collaborate and support one another?' It all stemmed from that idea and conversation. Now we have a mission to help women start and grow their own businesses. We do that with our one-on-one business coaching and our accountability community, as well as our creative agency. Priscilla Presley: Whenever Lauren and I came together, we realized that we were really successful from a young age, and it all stemmed from our networks and the people that we knew. These incredible women that we know knew each other, and then they lifted each other up. That’s just so powerful. There are a million ways that you can do that. There are all different kinds of communities or ways, so we had to sit down and say, ‘OK, how is it that we’re going to help bring this together?’ And how did you come together to start the business? PP: At the time, I was working for Warner Bros. and Bumble doing all of their events in L.A., and Lauren was working and capturing content for all kinds of major companies, including Bumble. We started working together, and she came to one of my first events that I threw as a plus-one for our mutual friend. We just hit it off, and we became instant friends. We started having this conversation, and it was literally one day, we were at my house. We were just having some wine, and we were talking about this idea. Every single weekend after that initial conversation, we would get together, we would have conversations, and we just didn’t stop. That was in October of 2018, and we were like, ‘This is a business!’ We started having numerous conversations to where there was a third partner involved, NJ Falk, and she came onto the team, and we just started really building it out from there. Accountability is an important factor in your community. Why did you make that such a focus? PP: We had a co-working space in the downtown L.A. arts district where we had events weekly. Women came every single day to work and collaborate. But whenever the pandemic hit, we saw a lot of women in our community were struggling. The biggest thing that they were lacking was the sense of community. And so, we quickly pivoted to be a digital community, offering services to be able to serve what we saw that need was especially at the time, and accountability was a big factor. Whenever you were sitting in your house all by yourself and needing that support and somebody that understands what you’re going through, saying like, ‘Hey, are you moving forward in the way that you’re looking to move forward to live that life?’ It’s been so powerful to see all the connections come together. Along with accountability, you’ve cultivated a supportive community. LC: We all know as entrepreneurs, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. You definitely hit those roadblocks and those hard days, and having supportive people around you to have your back and keep you accountable and keep going is so crucial. We’ve really been able to incorporate some of those things into our community, where we have weekly accountability calls every Monday and Friday to check in with all of our members, and we declare what we’re trying to accomplish for the week. We share any big wins we have going on. It’s a really amazing, supportive group of women that all come together and really cheer each other on. And we’ve seen kind of the fruits of that come from the women actually being able to collaborate and work together and grow their businesses. PP: Community is essential to growth and success, no matter what stage you’re at in life and business and your career. The sense that you have to know how to do it all, or that you have to do it on your own, or that you have to write down every single aspect of running the business, it’s just not realistic. The sooner they can realize that having a community can help you actually get clearer and get to the destination that you want faster than you thought possible, the more successful we all are. How did you go about building your community? PP: With building that community, you have to provide massive value. There are so many different groups and communities that are out there now, but being able to provide value with our accountability and connecting with even just one person can open the door is massive value. Being authentic, genuine, and having real relationships with every single one of our members has helped us succeed. We’ve tried the digital marketing, we’ve tried the Facebook ads — we’ve tried all of that. But what actually helped us grow is the success of our members and word of mouth. You’ve also launched the #YouGrowGirl small business tour. What does that initiative add to the mix? LC: With businesses coming back to life and with everything reopening, especially here in L.A., we wanted to do a fun initiative that would bring some joy back to all the small businesses. We partnered with this amazing florist, and she was able to give us these beautiful bouquets that we’ve been passing out throughout L.A. and highlighting small businesses that are coming back to life. The whole initiative is to spread awareness and to highlight amazing small businesses. How has the response been so far? PP: Everybody is so excited to see us. It’s been so much fun. We’ve already stopped by a coffee shop and one of our favorite boutiques here in L.A., and it’s been really cool to see the lights just getting reinvigorated into these businesses and people coming and stopping by. They’ve been nothing but excited and supportive of our initiative. We hope that everybody follows along and supports small businesses. As female entrepreneurs helping other female entrepreneurs succeed, what’s one big business lesson that you’ve learned? PP: Every failure is really not a failure — it’s truly a learning lesson. Being able to learn from every step along the way is crucial to get back up and start again. Also, never be afraid of change and pivot. That’s what helped us get to where we are today. Doing pivot after pivot to really hone who we are, what we offer, and how we can truly change people’s lives. And we wouldn’t have been able to get there if we didn’t pivot and we weren’t OK with failing and learning. LC: Just to add on to that, I think being able to be flexible and consistent is what I see time and time again that builds success. It’s just pushing through those hard times and having that support system to have your back. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Want to learn from someone who's figured it out? Learn how to seek out experienced colleagues through our step-by-step guide on how to Find a Mentor.
Apr 15, 2021 • 5 min read
Expert Advice

How to Size Your Startup’s Funding Round

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22P9PczMX48 Lyndsey Boucherle is the principal at Better Ventures, a venture capital firm based in Oakland, CA, that aims to back mission-driven businesses. In this Biz Tip video, she shares thoughts on the delicate balance that’s needed when seeking financial backing for your startup and how to avoid ending up in a place that’s “not far enough!” “It’s an art, not a science, and it’s finding that sweet spot,” she adds. Ready to put her advice to use? View our guide on how to Pitch Investors Virtually to make sure everything from your pitch deck to your business etiquette are ready for primetime.
Apr 14, 2021 • < 1 min read
Ziggy is curious
Expert Advice

Here’s a Quick and Easy Tool for Finding Your ‘Why’

Many of us have tried new things in 2020, both by choice and out of necessity. This should include rethinking our purpose. Whether we are pondering and developing our personal Why (e.g. Why should I get out of bed in the morning?) or our brand’s Why (e.g. Why do we serve others?), it can be hard to stay connected to those underlying motivations. This is especially true if we have trouble articulating these ideas in the first place. As brand strategy expert Kristen Knape recently told Hello Alice, your Why is the most important step in communicating your startup or business to the world. It also provides the clarity you need to move forward with purpose. Here are four steps I recommend to help you discover and lead with your Why. Step 1: Why Do I Get Out of Bed in the Morning? You'd be surprised how many people are stumped by this simple question. Take out a piece of paper and brainstorm everything that immediately comes to mind: words, phrases, images, and more. Do not hold back! Next, when you finish your brainstorm, look over your notes and underscore the items that most deeply resonate with you. Step 2: Why Does My Brand Serve Others? At its core, your brand’s Why is about an exchange of goods or services. There may be other brands and businesses similar to yours, but you can set yourself apart by articulating your particular organization’s beliefs and values and emphasizing what makes yours authentic. Take your time to brainstorm again with the pen and paper. Then, use the same process to look back at what you wrote and circle what stands out the most. Step 3: What is My Audience’s Why? We want to develop a Why for our brand that is authentic and consistent, but we also want to read the room and appeal to the right audiences. If we speak directly to the hearts and minds of a particular demographic or niche, this practice will set us up for success. Repeat the brainstorm exercise a third time, listing out concepts that describe what your target audience wants out of your offerings. Step 4: Integrate Your “Why Words” If you find common words and phrases across all three of the above areas, this is a great sign that you have identified your key themes and values. I call these “Why Words,” which can be fun and powerful tools to drop into your brand communications and meetings with clients and customers. Take note of how you feel as you weave these words into your daily schedule. Do you feel inspired, motivated, or energized? Pay attention to how others react, too. You should be able to tell when it's working. The areas where you can use your Why are endless: social media posts, brand story, press releases, email campaigns, and more. When your Why Words are reflected throughout your messaging, your values and beliefs will shine through. Feel free to go through this exercise again as your life and business evolves. I recommend starting with a brief meditation to clear your thoughts and calm your body. Studies show that meditation benefits CEOs more than recreation or relaxation do alone. For a deeper dive on how to communicate your Why to the media, check out learning and mentorship opportunities with Spiral5. Marissa Feinberg is Founder and Chief Storyteller of Triple Bottom Why. Her consultancy offers communications, marketing, digital, and brand storytelling services in sectors ranging from social and environmental impact to health and wellness, and arts and entertainment.Feinberg is a proud member of Spiral5, a career development platform and community for solo PR pros. For more small business tips and inspiration create a free account on Hello Alice or subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Nov 23, 2020 • 3 min read
Expert Advice

Branding Q&A with Kristen Knape of David & Goliath

How do you effectively tell your brand's story? That's one of the big questions that gets Kristen Knape, associate head of strategy and director of philanthropy at David&Goliath, out of bed every morning. Below, Knape reflects on the experience and shares additional advice on why focus and purpose might be the foundation of any great brand. You say that your forte is helping a business "create focus." What’s your advice for a small business owner who might not be sure what to focus on yet? It’s always remembering why you got into it in the first place. Typically, when I work with brands, it’s about remembering the passion behind why they exist and bringing that back up to the surface. For new companies, it’s about not getting distracted by what you think people want. It’s amazing how often like-minded values transcend yourself and embed in other people. The focus needs to be on passion. That was a big piece of advice in your Hello Alice AMA. Yes! One person had an ice cream sweetened with dates. We went back and forth about how that’s an amazing story by itself. That can be the story. Another person was talking about these natural supplements that were created over decades in Eastern medicine. They were wondering if they should dim their light and focus on more Western philosophy. Why? Your story is so fascinating! The purpose is more about their own truth, and thankfully right now, purpose is so popular. Did you notice any other themes? It seemed like a lot of people were interested in two things. One was redirecting how they should market their business amid COVID. The second thing I heard was how should I be speaking to people in this climate? Should I tippy toe or lean into it? I'm referring to everything from women’s rights to political conversations. In some ways, it's difficult to choose. We could really have a long conversation about that. I'm sure the answer depends on the brand. It depends on the brand yes, but what's probably more important is who your audience is. There was this woman I spoke with who had an energy drink. She thought she was really different because it’s such a masculine industry, and she was concerned about leaning into the women’s rights discussion. Personally, I would go all in. Because of the truth of who you are — you are creating a product for women — why wouldn’t you talk about women having a voice? She had every right to be in that space. But you have to look at both sides. You have to ask who cares and so what? Who cares who you are talking to? You have to look at both. Many business owners assume they know their customer. What are some strategies you recommend for testing those assumptions? I’m a big believer in not just looking at your direct audience but also looking at culturally what is happening in your life. A lot of brands get into trouble talking to themselves when they’re talking to the consumers. For example, I work on a CPG, and I saw their segmentation study. It was all about how customers ate their food. Was it on the go? For family time? That type of thinking. But nobody is picking up your food thinking, I am this product. It’s not like people walk around saying, 'I’m a chicken person!' They’re way more complicated than that and don’t define themself in those ways. So we took a step back and developed profile work. We basically created a profile around that in relation to what matters. We talk to them as a health-conscious person and describe why that matters and what else matters. It's about that larger context. With the pandemic, has anything fundamentally changed about how companies should position their brands? We’ve been doing a lot of exploring at our agency. It’s understanding how people’s need states are changing. You have to look at your consumers. People are not as social as they once were. If you’re a brand focused on the social dynamic, how does that change? You might need to reposition yourself as a household product or service. This isn’t ending anytime soon. But one thing we are trying to promote is don’t abandon your story because of this crisis. You came into the market with a reason for being here the first place. Try to stay true to that original purpose. Many brands have social causes like eco-consciousness as part of their core identity. From a branding perspective, are those companies better served by preaching to the choir, or should they use it as a way to change hearts and minds? I think typically you start with your base that is most likely to purchase you. At the end of the day, someone who doesn’t care about global warming — you’re not going to convince them. That's why I think Method is such an interesting brand. They are better for the environment, and they have a beautiful aesthetic. You might pick up the Method just because it looks good in your kitchen versus just leaning all in. Basically, your overarching advice is to remember your passion and your purpose. It’s really true, and it sounds so simple! You’d be surprised how many brands abandon that. Even big brands get bogged down with meeting the numbers and supply chain. That's why we want to make sure brands are living their purpose on the inside. It’s so important to get people motivated. Employees who understand the purpose of the brand are more loyal, engaged, and excited to come into the work. Do you have any other insights to share from your experience with the Hello Alice community? I mentioned this, but I was really impressed with the true concern for what’s happening in society and how each company can help it authentically. The flip side is that I was always hearing comments like, 'Will I rub people wrong?' I feel that with big brands, too. It was cool to see these conversations happening at these very scrappy, just-starting-out businesses that care about their societal impact. That inspires me. For more small business tips and inspiration create a free account on Hello Alice or subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Oct 2, 2020 • 4 min read
Expert Advice

5 Expert Marketing Tips from Elevate My Brand

Laurel Mintz knows that in order to create a robust marketing strategy for her clients, her own business needs to walk the talk. This means that Elevate My Brand, the Los Angeles-based marketing agency specializing in digital strategy and live events she founded in 2009, only recommends practices that it pursues for itself. About Elevate My Brand “We’re very clear on who we are as a brand, so we make sure that we are standing for something and have strong values,” says Mintz. “We start from that point, and then we execute our marketing strategy from an omnichannel perspective, whether that’s social, content, Google ads, video — we do it all.” This method has secured her top-notch clients including Facebook, Verizon, Dom Perignon, and more. Her agency has even won the W3 Silver Award for their work on Nickelodeon’s Paw Patrol Road Patrol Campaign, as well as the Patrick Soon-Shiong Innovation Award and the Los Angeles Business Journal’s Women in Business Award, among others. Hello Alice recently checked in with Mintz to discuss how small businesses and startups can pivot their marketing efforts and stay profitable during the COVID-19 pandemic. Below, five of her top tips. 1. Build Your Marketing Strategy from a Place of Data Many agencies focus on the creative side of marketing, which is important, but Mintz believes that a data-driven approach is much more important at the outset. “People get really excited about the brand they are building and don’t understand that building a brand is not very sexy,” Mintz says. “It has to be a very data-driven process, otherwise it’s going to be about throwing some money at the wall, hoping it sticks, and praying you don’t go bankrupt.” For example, Elevate My Brand starts with a listening software that allows them to see where a client falls in the brand universe. If you’re a food and beverage client in the consumer space, EMB can gather data on your competitors and how they’re playing in this space. “That approach allows her to determine where they need to focus their efforts to get from point A to point B,” says Mintz. 2. Implement a Testing Phase to Your Marketing Strategy “That’s where we develop a hypothesis about the brand, who their audience is, and what their messaging would look like, and we test it for about three to four weeks,” says Mintz. Then, they can gather adequate information on how their current marketing strategy is working, and what variables they could experiment with. 3. Be Realistic About Timelines and Budgets Mintz says a common mistake brands make is setting unrealistic timelines: “Most go, ‘We just launched this huge product, it's the best in the category, so therefore we’re gonna be hugely successful in a month,’ and I say, ‘Good luck with that.’” For example: “If we have a new social platform that’s about to launch and they want to ‘listen’ to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, but they only have $1 million to spend, not $10-100 million, then we have to tell them they are nowhere in that space right now, so it’s about being realistic in terms of what market share you can capture,” says Mintz. Timelines and budgets are misunderstood by most brands because it’s easy to be myopic about who they are, and who they serve. It’s great to be really excited about that, of course, but a reality check in terms of budget and timelines is needed in order to proceed with a good strategy. A good rule of thumb is to always assume you will have to spend more and devote more time than you originally planned. 4. Double-Down on Digital Marketing “A recession happened in 2008-2009 — although not as dramatically and not on a global scale — and brands that stayed and doubled down on digital marketing were the ones that came out of it faster than the others in the long run,” says Mintz. Her biggest piece of advice is to show up and not pretend that the pandemic isn’t happening. Take this time to double down, and you’re going to potentially capture more market share in less time and at a lower cost. Right now, digital ad rates have fallen more than 20%, so advertisements can reach more users per dollar. “That’s a huge win, especially for startups brands,” she adds. 5. Convert, Don’t Cancel Just because you can’t organize a big, live, experiential event, doesn’t mean you still can’t bring about a great experience for your customers and audience. “We’re not seeing people who convert their experience to digital events are still able to capture a great deal of market share,” says Mintz. ‘We’ve worked on a digital golf tournament, digital cocktail experience, and more.” [Hello Alice Guide: Make the Most of Digital Events] At the end of the day, the biggest thing to note is that content is still king. “Now that digital is the only channel, the more content you can pump out that’s keyword-focused and relevant, the better off you’ll be in terms of market share,” Mintz says. Want more marketing advice like this? Subscribe to Hello Alice’s weekly newsletter to be the first to get key insights from other founders.
Sep 16, 2020 • 3 min read