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  • November 27, 2020

    Building a World of Accessibility

    They say marketing is a reflection of society and society is a reflection of marketing. However, if you were an alien that just landed on earth and looked at the ads the marketing industry produce, you would never know people have disabilities. Our efforts to include everyone is often directed at ensuring diversity in race, gender and sexual orientation, but people with disabilities need representation too. It also important to focus on the accessibility of your marketing as well. So, we’ll look at the wrong and right ways to include people with disabilities in your marketing while also making that marketing accessible.

    Inclusion

    According to the CDC, around 26%, or one in four people, have a disability of some sort. Besides the ethical obligations, lack of inclusion is just bad business. However, inclusion marketing is a balancing act. The end goal is inclusion and allyship, but too often marketers miss the mark. They either offer pity in the ad or use it as a source of inspiration. Pity is obviously not what people with disabilities want; they want inclusion. Inspiration doesn’t sound that bad but who is it inspiring. Often times, it actually makes a non-disabled person feel good and better for having watched it. These approaches are wrong and offer little to people with disabilities.

     A good way to ensure you’re focusing on inclusion is to ask yourself who the ad is for. If your intent is to include people with disabilities in the conversation and give them the same representation, use that to drive the message of your ad. It’s also important to acknowledge the intersectionality of a person with a disability. The disability does not define who they are; it’s valid to focus on the other things that make them who they are.

    Like any other group, representation matters within the industry as well. Diversity should be seen in the company at every level. The C-suite is made for everyone and people with disabilities can and should assume those positions. Often businesses create programs to offer resources and paths to executive positions for certain groups. Reflect on your own company’s efforts and see what you can do better to do the same for people with disabilities.

    Man using accessibility keyboard

    Accessibility

    Accessibility starts with you and the choices you make every day. When you are hosting an online event, do you describe the pictures and yourself for those who may be visually impaired or blind? Do you make sure there’s captions for those who are hearing impaired or deaf? These are the things we should all be reminding ourselves. Accessibility is on you and your company.

    Other things you should focus on is your website. There are many ways to optimize your site for accessibility. Start by including images with alt text. This allows a person who is visually impaired or blind to still access all the content. You can also allow users to enhance the font size and reevaluate other content like videos to ensure their accessibility as well. It’s important to note that there are disabilities of all types; some you can see and others you can’t. Try to address everyone’s need in redesigning your site.

    One of the biggest problems with companies promoting themselves as accessible or “disability friendly” is that it means nothing. If you say on your site that your business is “disability friendly”, it’s like saying someone asking you what you do to make your business accessible and replying with, “Yes.” You gave no detail to actually explain what about your business makes it “disability friendly”. Instead of saying it, show it. Have “disability facts” listed on your site. These facts can include information about parking, bathrooms, alternative entrances, and other things your business offers.

    Pink sign showing accessibility entrance

    Diversity means everyone. It’s on all of us to start and live it as an ever day effort. It’s important to be conscious of it and push for more inclusion in our marketing, our companies, and our communities. There’s plenty of resources out there to help guide you on what to do; take the first step and build a community that is accessible no matter one’s race, gender, sexual orientation, or ability.

  • November 12, 2020

    How to Host a Virtual Event

    Kids are going to school… online. Adults are going to work… online. People are meeting up with friends… online. COVID-19 has truly pushed everything, and everyone online, so why would events be any different?  One thing is for sure, these events don’t need to be a somber reminder of the current state of the world; they can be just as good as any other event, if you take the following key tips into consideration!

    Select the best platform for your needs

    The first step in hosting a virtual event is choosing the platform to hold it on. To do this, you need to ask yourself what type of event you’re holding. The size, cost, duration other event logistics are important to consider when making a decision. There are many platforms to select from like Zoom Webinar, Google Meet, and Join.me.

    Obviously, there’s many more out there, so do your due diligence and research as many platforms as possible to find the one that’s right for you. Remember to think about cost; some platforms will take a percentage of what you charge attendees to register, or if you’re hosting it for free, they’ll have you pay per attendee. Also, many have a limit on the number of people that can register.

    Practice and Prepare

    Practice makes perfect, and to host a virtual event you need a lot of it. Hosting requires you to jungle many balls at once. You need to make sure the event is smooth and flows from topic to topic or speaker to speaker depending on the type of event you’re conducting. This will help retain the attention of the audience. We all know it’s much easier to get distracted on your computer than it is in person.

    Practice also comes in the form of familiarizing yourself with the platform you chose. Know what features come with the platform, specifically what you’re able to do and not do. Hosting a mock event is highly recommended as this will ensure you and your speakers feel comfortable. It’s better to learn and work out the kinks before the event than in the middle of the event.

    Part of your preparation is also to make the information for registration clear. Odds are this is new for people thus well-defined instructions on how to register, how to access the event, and who to contact for help are imperative.

    Engage the Audience

    As previously stated, it’s important to retain your audience’s attention. That means actively having them participate during the event. Some platforms are better than others for this. For instance, Zoom Webinar allows you to set private and group panelist chats for attendees and panelists. You can also manage and share audience input in Q&A dialog boxes and attendees can raise their virtual hand to be called on.

    If you don’t want to use a tool like this, use the tried and true method of live tweeting. This is a great way to have the audience be part of the conversation and even discuss among themselves without disrupting the event. This can also be utilized for a Q&A. It’s important to think about what hashtags you may want to use for your event and how they will be used. By doing this, you also allow for user generated content to advertise your event for either post event video release or future events you may hold.

    No matter the method you use, make sure to be active in the chat with your attendees. Pose questions to the audience, answer small questions people have, and keep the conversation going as well as moving. If the chat gets stale, people will lose interest. Make sure that somebody is responsible for keeping the chat lively.

    COVID-19 has changed how we behave, how we socialize, and how we work. These tips are important to perfect as we continue to battle this virus. And even when the world moves passed this pandemic and returns to “normal”, we can’t be sure our behaviors will. The world is changing. Technology is advancing, and it’s possible that COVID-19 only accelerated the timeline of virtual life.

  • October 23, 2020

    How to Build a Buyer Persona

    Hello, thanks for dropping by! You’re just in time to help me create a buyer persona for my new company. A buyer persona is an essential part of any marketing strategy. Personas help create categories in which a company can to tailor its messages to. For this business, we’ll have to construct a persona to better understand our target audience and its relationship with the company. Ready?

    What is a Buyer Persona?

    The obvious first step to creating a buyer persona is understanding what it is. A buyer persona is a fictional character you create based on a target market you’d like to message to. The more detailed the persona, the better. Give them a name, demographic details, interests, and behavioral traits. You should understand their goals for using the product or service you offer, what makes them hesitant to buy or use your product or service, and what they have relied on in the past. This should be a fun task. It’s not often you get to create an entire person from thin air.

    Find a Target Audience

    A buyer persona utilizes the data you collect on target audiences. You must find out who you audiences are before you can even begin to construct a persona. This requires data on your existing customers as well as predictions of who your future customers may be. Social media can be a great starting point by analyzing your followers and discovering which users are engaging most with the content. A company’s website is the treasure trove of data.

    Through Google Analytics, you can assess the users that interact with a website and where they’re coming from. Consider things like age, gender, geographical location, languages, income, interests, etc. No detail is too small to include; the information you collect will start to reveal patterns you can capitalize on. For this company, let’s say we’ve found that our largest audience is women 30-45 years old, middle class, and moms among other detail.

    Build a Character

    This is where the fun comes in. You can take all the data you learned about the target audience and compile it into a person’s identity. Given our data we can determine a few things. Since our largest target markets is female, let’s name our character Sally. From our data, we can also determine that Sally is 35, married, and has two kids. She doesn’t work and is in the middle class. As we start to add the bulk of our data, our persona becomes more and more real.

    Once we’ve added the basic information that make up a human being, we can begin to incorporate personality into the persona. For instance, we should start to ask ourselves, “What are Sally’s hobbies?” and, “Is Sally a social person?” Developing Sally’s personality allows you to create a marketing strategy that is finely revised and specific to the details of who she is. Rather than building a buckshot strategy that hopes to encompass every person, personas target the exact person who is likely to buy your product or service.

    Use Character to Craft a Message

    Now that we have created our lovely Sally, it’s time to put her to work. What message should we try and convey to her to make her more interested in our business? Having built her, we understand what motivates her, what her hopes and dreams are, and her everyday life. Now we can develop a message that fits this. Again, the more detail you can put into the persona, the better. Knowing Sally’s likes and dislikes can help create a highly detailed message that addresses the complexity that humans have. Generally, this is how it should go: you ask yourself what Sally is looking for out of your product or why she would need it, and then you make the messaging reflect that.

    This is an easy and fun process. Personas are a great exercise to advance your marketing on any campaign. As always, details are an important thing to remember. The more precise you are in the persona, the easier it becomes to make that perfect marketing strategy.

  • October 7, 2020

    SEO “How-To” Guide

    Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of those things that may seem too technical and complex for a small business to implement themselves. However, it’s easier than most people think.

    According to Moz, a leading expert on SEO, “It is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.” Since we’re talking about search engines and Google has 90% of all searches on the internet, most of the best practices are with Google’s algorithms in mind.

    For the sake of learning, let’s pretend we’re a shoe company. Let’s begin, step by step. Welcome aboard SEO Shoe Company! Congratulations on your first day. Let’s get started!

    Google search bar

    Keywords

    Keywords are the foundation of how all searches are conducted and how your site is found. They are the words and phrases that people use when trying to find online content on a search engine.

    Your goal is to figure which keywords are most popular and most relevant to your business. That way, you can use them to optimize your online content. This will help you rank in the top results for those keyword searches. Finding the keywords can be easy. There are dozens of websites dedicated to identifying keywords that pertain to your business, which also have a high volume of searches. Remember to keep updating your information because the phrases people use and their popularity change over time.

    Here are some of ways you can implement keywords:

    • Use the keyword in the title of the page on your website
    • Use the keyword in the URL (ex. SEOShoeCompany.com/sneakers/blue)
    • Use the keyword, and variations of the keyword, on your site pages and in blog content
    • Link the keyword on one page of your site to another

    Keyword Questions

    Keywords that come in the form of a question are extremely valuable to businesses and their efforts to drive web traffic. Consumers often ask questions and the search engine will search websites to answer that question. If SEO Shoe Company can answer the question, that can bring amazing traffic to our website. Let’s say a consumer searches, “How to clean dirty sneakers?” It may not seem like a big deal for most. However, here at SEO Shoe Company, we know the power of that question. If they’re finding the answer on our site, that increases our brand’s recognition.

    Longtail Keywords

    Next are long tail keywords. These are long, specific phrases that consumers use when they are closer to making a purchase. For instance, someone who searches, “Men’s shoes,” is less likely to buy than someone who searches, “Men’s running shoes, blue, size 10, best prices.”

    Determining what kind of long tail keywords line up with the services and products your business offers can help boost traffic and hopefully sales. After finding these keywords, make sure you implement them naturally into your content. This could be within a heading of a blog, a blog itself, or a description of a product or service. Don’t just add in the longtail keyword, hoping for results. Also, ensure that you use different variations of the keyword to fill the gaps between different searches, so no potential consumers pass through the cracks.

    Keyword Density

    It’s critical to point out keyword density, the number of times the keyword appears. It may seem smart to overload your page and content with keywords, but this would be a critical mistake.

    In the early days of search engines, the content that would rank higher in search would be the pages that had the highest density of the relevant keywords. This became an obvious problem because we could just write, “Shoe, Shoe, Shoe,” over and over again and be the top page in the search results. Safe to say, Google and other search engines have updated their algorithms to prevent that and even penalize pages for breaking the rules.

    Hand holding the golden key

    Hypertext Markup Language (HTML)

    Another way to optimize the site for search engines is by understanding how the backend of the website is structured. HTML is the code that makes up the website. Search engines, like Google, send out bots called “crawlers” to collect and catalog information from websites.

    Most think they have no control over the actions of the bot, but Google allows you to direct their crawlers in many ways. Likely, you’ll have pages that you don’t want bots to crawl such as admin pages or “Thank You” pages (displayed after a purchase).You can block the crawlers from looking at irrelevant pages using “robots.txt.” (i.e., SEOShoes.com/robots.txt).

    Here, you’re able to suggest which pages should and shouldn’t be searched, as well as the speed at which to crawl. You might want a crawler to spend more time crawling a page with lots of information as opposed to one with very little. Directing the crawlers helps optimize your “crawl budget,” which is the average number of pages a crawler will visit before leaving.

    HTML code

    Navigation

    Navigation is how easily each page is found and how clear that path is. Crawlers search the site’s pages by going from link to link. Navigation needs to be clear and ordered as to be as efficient as possible, so creating a sitemap is beneficial for you and the crawlers.

    The map helps you organize the site which in turn helps you manage it. You can’t let any important pages get lost through a convoluted strand of links. On the crawler’s side, it gives them a clear illustration of what is important to crawl. Google allows you to build and submit a sitemap here. This is a great tool to use but should not be a substitute for good, organized navigation.

    Indexing

    Lastly, you need to focus on where the pages end up. This is the index. It is where the pages are sorted based of the relevance of the user’s search.  This index is controlled by the search engines. This means when I search, “shoe,” on a search engine, the search engine will pull all the relevant pages from their index. Luckily, you also have influence on how the search engines index your site. Again, a good understanding of HTML helps here.

    Google’s site has lots of valuable SEO information. It has guides that will help you through multiple aspects of SEO, a reference page, updates on what is new to SEO guidelines, case studies, tools that help test your SEO efforts, and a help tab. It is a one-stop-shop for all your SEO needs.

    Hand mapping out navigation on white board

    SEO Shoe Company

    Let’s review what we just learned and see how it can be implemented for SEO Shoe Company. First, we learned that keywords are the foundation of SEO and there’s different types like questions and longtail. We, as a company, must find those keywords, and for us they would be things like, “Women’s heel size 6.5 gold,” or simply, “running shoes.” We can take those keywords and imbed them in our website. Whether it’s on the page title or in content that we’ve created, placing these words into our pages will boost our SEO for those types of searches.

    Next, we must get better about HTML. We should sit down and figure out which of our pages we want indexed and how we want them to be search. At the same time, we should also be thinking about how our website is laid out. It wouldn’t make sense for us to hide the sneaker section within the boots section nor would it make sense to not link the boots section to the home page. We need clear organized pages to ensure the crawlers can access all the material we want them to. We, at SEO Shoe Company, have a lot of work to do, but everything we learned today makes it that much easier to do.

    SEO is a dense subject. Entire books have been written on the best practices and many more will come. No matter how much information there is, it is not as complicated as it looks. It takes times and studying, but every business can and should implement good SEO practices. Where should you start? Try a search engine, we’re sure that can help you find some relevant content based on your keywords.

  • September 29, 2020

    Lessons Learned Series: Recruit and Retain the Best Talent

    This year marks the 30th anniversary of SRB Communications. In honor of this accomplishment, our blog series, Lessons Learned, will highlight five key lessons that founder and CEO, Dr. Sheila Brooks learned during 30 years as an entrepreneur. This week we offer the final piece of advice in this series – Lesson #5, Recruit and Retain the Best Talent. If you missed Lesson #1- Pivot the Business, #2 – Obtaining a Bank Loan, #3 –Writing a Growth Plan, or #4 – Customer First Mindset, click the links.

    You are only as good as the team that supports you. That’s why finding the best talent is imperative to the success of your business. The challenge doesn’t just stop there. Once you’ve found the talent, you need to get them to stay with your company.

    Obviously, the first step is filling a need. Business owners often make the mistake of hiring someone that they don’t really need in a misguided attempt at expansion. Growth in a company doesn’t come from hiring new people. In fact, it’s usually the opposite.

    When a company begins to expand, the opportunity to hire new people reveals itself. That requires you to pay close attention to your business and its needs. If you begin to turn down work because you don’t have enough people or lack people with the right skills, it might be time to hire. It never looks good for your business to appear incapable of handling the work of a client.

    Hiring a new employee can solve many problems in the company, as long as it’s the right fit. No matter the reason you feel you need someone, always ask yourself, “Will this person add value to my company?”

    Now that you have a position to fill, what does the best talent look like? It’s not necessarily the leading experts in the industry. Rather, it’s someone who fits the position but also fits your work culture. In order for a person to fit the position, they need the skills that are required to competently function in the job. This works both ways; just as you wouldn’t want someone under-qualified, you don’t want someone overqualified. It may seem counter-intuitive, but your goal is to retain the talent you find. Someone overqualified for the position may easily become bored and move on quickly in search of something that challenges them. That’s why finding the perfect fit is so important. A person who is equal to the position they take will stay engaged with the work they do and last longer.

    That said, no matter how well they match the position, they must match the work culture. Culture at a company is vital to its survival. Every owner should want an environment for their employees that make them feel good. You might find the best person for the job but if they don’t jell with the rest of the team and ruins the environment for other employees, it’s a bad fit.

    For example, if your current team is very serious and professional, adding a goofy and talkative new employee might not mix well into the culture. The best talent is often very different for each business and each position. Knowing exactly what you’re looking for in an employee allows you to narrow your focus and find the best for you and your business.

    There’s a number of ways you can find talent.

    There’s an app for that. We are fortunate enough to live in a world filled with technology and the phrase, “there’s an app for that,” is not untrue. There are dozens of apps and websites like ZipRecruiter, Indeed, Glassdoor, Monster, and LinkedIn. Most notably, LinkedIn has more than 706 million users. These sites allow you to post jobs, and based on the qualifications you require, it will search there userbase for people matching the description. This ensures that you’re not wasting your time and receive the best talent for your position to review.

    Networking. However, one of the best ways to recruit talent is through your personal connections. When SRB was still in production, I knew where the talent was. I had been a television journalist, but I also had experience in radio and newspapers. So, I was able to rely on those networks I developed to find talent. As a business owner, I make it a point to be active in professional organizations. Throughout the years, I’ve cultivated relationships with all of the national minority media organizations, like the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists; industry groups like the American Advertising Federation, ColorComm, the Capital Region Minority Supplier Development Council (CRMSDC), Leadership Greater Washington and various Chambers of Commerce. Networking like this allows me to have insight in the industry as a whole and build connections that may one day may turn into an opportunity for recruitment.

    No matter how good we are at finding talent, getting them to join and stay is a whole other challenge. In a competitive job market, you have to give people work-life balance and allow them the opportunity to grow. You need to provide them with professional development and show them that you believe that there are creative ways that they can advance themselves. Develop unique incentives that help you recruit and retain your talent; an extra week of vacation when you hire them, extra time off, cash bonuses, rewards, birthday parties, etc. You have to show employees that you really care about them because that’s what people are looking for.

    There is a remote culture and a travel culture growing in the professional world, and you have to adapt to those changes. If you understand what drives the talent you seek to recruit, you can craft your business to provide it. Whereas the older generations lived to work; the younger ones work so that they can live. Build a culture for them.

  • September 9, 2020

    Lessons Learned Series: Customer First Mindset

    This year marks the 30th anniversary of SRB Communications. In honor of this accomplishment, our blog series, Lessons Learned, will highlight five key lessons that founder and CEO, Dr. Sheila Brooks learned during 30 years as an entrepreneur. This week we offer Lesson #4, Customer First Mindset.  If you missed Lesson #1, Pivot the Business, #2 – Obtaining a Bank Loan,  or #3 – Writing a Growth Business Plan, click the links.

    We’ve all heard it before, “the customer comes first,” “the customer is always right,” and several other cliché sayings that circulate in the business world. So, what are these quotes trying to tell us? From my 30 years in business, I’ve learned that these sayings are correct; it’s about achieving a “customer-first mindset”. Simply put, it’s part of your company’s cultural strategy.

    Let’s level set this thinking. First, as a business owner, it’s important to show your employees the value that they bring to your company. They are the ones who are working with customers day to day. So, they must be empowered to make decisions and service customers in meaningful ways. Ask yourself, “Are my customer’s needs being met and do we not only meet, but exceed their expectations?” Here are some thoughts:

    • When the marketplace changes, be ready to share innovative and creative ideas with customers. For instance, what did you do to pivot during the COVID-19 pandemic?  Customers want to hear your thinking on how to improve the work you’re doing for them to better reflect the current environment. Adopting the customer-first mindset is also about sharing new insights, listening and paying attention to their immediate needs.

    • Keep the communication lines open. Always make it easy for customers to interact with your team. Your employees should also be prepared to report back to the rest of the team on their progress, opportunities and challenges. Sharing knowledge is key to boost transparency and engage your employees more.

    • Stay attuned to your customer’s strategy, their attitudes, industry standards, and business environments. Every customer interaction that you have is an opportunity for you or your employees to get feedback on your services.

    As the CEO of a 30-year-old business, it’s important that I lead the charge and closely listen to our customer feedback. But I also instill in my team so that we are always putting our customers first. By doing so, we get to know them better and understand their needs and expectations. It helps us to understand not only what is happening with them now, but what is going to be required of us in the future.

    If you grow with your customers your business will grow. The moment you get complacent is the moment you’ve failed your customers. Remember, your work is never done. Serve your clients or die tryin’.

  • August 25, 2020

    Lessons Learned Series: Writing A Business Growth Plan

    This year marks the 30th anniversary of SRB Communications. In honor of this accomplishment, our blog series, Lessons Learned, will highlight five key lessons that founder and CEO, Dr. Sheila Brooks learned during 30 years as an entrepreneur. This week we offer Lesson #3 – Writing Your Business Growth Plan.  If you missed Lesson #1, Pivot the Business, or #2 – Obtaining a Bank Loan, click the links.

    I encourage you to invest in yourself. The clearer your vision is about your business, the sooner it becomes a reality. It’s more important now than ever to write and update your business growth plan regularly since there is no playbook for surviving through a pandemic, which can create opportunities.

    What are you working towards? What are your goals? Where are you headed? These are good questions to ask yourself in life and, just as importantly, in business. Running a business requires long-term thinking and foresight. Every action you take should be pushing you towards the goal you set beforehand. Whether it’s growing your business’s sales by 10% or selling it in 10 years, knowing where you’re headed creates a path to success that is easier to see.

    What is a Business Growth Plan?

    A business growth plan is a strategic plan that allows you to plan, track, and execute actions that push your business forward. The growth is simply the expansion of any aspect of the business. Having a set plan helps in three critical ways:

    • It helps you realize your business goals
    • It offers a set path to push your business forward, and
    • It allows you to keep tabs on your progress

    Why is a Growth Plan Important in Business?

    Many people go into business not realizing what they really want out of it. I learned early in my career as an entrepreneur that you must have a business plan to ensure that your company is focused on growth. Approximately 80% of businesses in this country fail within the first year, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA). By the fifth year in business, more than half of the small businesses, 45% – 51%, have closed their doors. The primary reason for small businesses to fail is a lack of adequate capital, primarily because they had no business growth plan. It is essential that an entrepreneur has a written blueprint on how they will access capital, recruit and retain the best talent, manage their operations, know their market and competitors, and so much more.

    According to CB Insights, 17% of small businesses fail because they lack a business model. Ask yourself, do you want to be in business or just a consultant? If you want to be in business, you should know how to answer these questions. How big do you want the business to be? How will you know if you have reached your goals? How do you want to grow once you’ve achieved those goals? If you don’t have these types of questions answered, you’re essentially driving with no destination which is almost a guarantee to failure.

    Having a business growth plan keeps you focused on what needs to be done. With a clear path to success laid out, it’s much easier to stay focused on the day-to-day and long-term picture. Maintaining your drive is imperative in keeping your business afloat, and a growth plan keeps you motivated along the way.

    Early in my career, I knew that I was very clear that I wanted to be an entrepreneur and start a business with full-time employees, office space, and full-service production facility. Those aspirations seemed aggressive at the time, but they served as the inspiration behind the plan that turned those aspirations into goals. The key to my success was I waited for the right time – when I could afford to pay for them. They were part of my plan, and it’s a plan that I continue to follow, revisit, and revise whenever necessary, and it helps me see how to achieve success down the road. I’m proud of where SRB Communications is 30 years later. We’ve always had a written business growth plan and always will.

    The business growth plan also allows for continued reassurance that you are on the right track. The plan gives you check points and the ability to review the progress you have made. This gives you increased confidence on the actions you take. Knowing you’re headed in the right direction for your business makes each new step easier to take. Checking on your progress also lends the opportunity to see what hasn’t work in progressing you towards your ultimate goal. If you’re not seeing the growth you’d like to see, a growth plan will give you the opportunity to stop and pivot before it’s too late.

    Business is a long-term game that must be played with well-defined plan in mind. You should be constantly thinking of how you can better your company and achieve the goal that you set. Nothing is too small or too big to take on if it means bringing new growth to the company. Remaining focused on your growth day in and day out drives success. It’s the “sink or swim, swim or die” mentality that allows a business to survive. In business, we must be sharks. If we stop moving forward, we die.

  • August 4, 2020

    Lessons Learned Series: Getting a Bank Loan

    This year marks the 30th anniversary of SRB Communications. In honor of this accomplishment our blog series, Lessons Learned, will highlight five key lessons that founder and CEO Dr. Sheila Brooks learned during 30 years in business. Each week the blog will offer a new lesson and new advice. This week we offer Lesson #2 – Getting A Bank Loan.  If you missed Lesson #1 – Pivot the Business, here’s the link.

    Access to capital is critical for starting and growing a small business, but many people don’t realize that the need extends beyond the first few years. If your goal is to expand your business, obtaining a bank loan or line of credit could help you invest further invest in your company and push you towards your growth goals. Here’s what you need to know:

    • It’s important that business owners have access to capital, especially for unforeseen circumstances.
    • It’s also important that your business credit and personal credit are in good shape.
    • The main difference between a loan and a line of credit is how you get the money and how and what you repay. A loan is a lump sum of money that is repaid over a fixed term with interest.  A line of credit is a revolving account that allows borrowers to draw, repay and redraw from available funds.
    person holding black card

    Obtaining a line of credit or bank loan is an investment in your business. Know exactly what purchases you plan to make with that loan and how it will help increase profitability. Do not get a bank loan unless you have a clear plan of how that money will be used to further your business and how you’ll pay it off.

    black white and red round arrow

    The best advice I can give you is to get a loan or line of credit when you don’t need the money. I’ve learned this from my own experience as a business owner. After my fifth year in business, I decided it was time for me to invest in editing equipment and an audio recording studio.

    Although I got a loan to do that, I didn’t need the money. But I knew that by investing in the editing equipment and audio recording studio I would keep a large percentage of business in-house that I had been outsourcing. And I also knew I wanted to grow my business.

    At that time in 1995, I had contracts with the federal government for about five years, had received our 8(a) certification and was positioned to win some other bigger government contracts. Acquiring this equipment would bring much of my editing production in-house and allow for more profits on those contracts. So, I got the loan a 5-year loan and paid it off in 2½ half years. The 8(a) program is a federal government 9-year business development program for small, disadvantaged businesses. We successfully completed that program in 2003.

    In business it is imperative that you go after capital tirelessly. You must be able to build banking relationships. And, most importantly, you’ll need good credit. As a small business owner, you have to pull those credit reports, see where you stand and work to bring your credit scores up – both business and personal. If you fund your business on credit, you’ll have to make sure that you are paying those bills on time every month.

    Our current economy provides a grave example of why it is important to have access to capital. Once the global health pandemic hit, corporations, governments and small businesses were forced to downsize with layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts. Many rushed to banks to request more money – without success. It isn’t just small businesses; big businesses are struggling with access to capital, too. This pandemic is teaching us a great deal about the U.S. economy.

     So, it’s important to remember that bank loans and lines of credit require a great deal of responsibility. They can be great tools to help your business grow, but do not to misuse them. The result could be disastrous to both you and your business.

  • July 24, 2020

    Lessons Learned Series: Pivot the Business

    This year marks the 30th anniversary of SRB Communications. In honor of this accomplishment, our blog series, Lessons Learned, will highlight the five most important lessons that Dr. Brooks learned in 30 years of business as the founder, president and CEO. Check in next week for Lesson #2.

    Starting a business is a risky venture for anyone to take. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that approximately 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 45% during the first five years, and 65% during the first 10 years. The world is a constantly changing place. Many hopeful entrepreneurs don’t prepare themselves or their businesses for the strain that can be placed on them. And no matter how long your company has been in business, you’ll need to know when it’s time to pivot.

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    Pivoting a business is not just adding new service offerings, it’s a systematic change in your business model. That being said, you shouldn’t wait until your business is under severe economic strain to think about how you can pivot your business. Always have your business prepared to shift business models, you never know when you’ll need to make a change.

    Look at what’s happening in the world today. No one could have predicted a global health pandemic would hit and totally devastate the economy. Though the causes are different, we find the world heading towards an identical economic situation as the recession from 2007-2009. That recession hit small businesses very hard. SRB Communications lost 90% of our business, pretty much overnight. The media landscape changed dramatically. We went from producing 90-100 videos a year in our million- dollar production facility to competing with one-man teams with a small camera, iPhones, laptop and at-home editing software. Producing original television programming on a regular basis for network and cable TV was replaced by reality shows.

    As the CEO, I looked at my business, our services, personnel and the media landscape. Though we were a production company, we still had one large advertising contract with Pepco Holdings. I had to make some tough decisions. I could shut down the company after 18 years of business and call it a victory or I could pivot the business from TV production to marketing and advertising, where production of radio and TV commercials are still dominant.

    When I looked at the media landscape and did the market research, what I found was that there was more business to pursue in the energy and utilities industry. And that business was expanding to advertising and marketing work and executing campaigns, e.g. educating customers about utility programs and initiatives. And so that is when I decided that if we could win one (1) utility contract, we should go after every gas, water, and electric company in DC. And we did. And we won. And then we went to Maryland. We won again. Then we started winning utility contracts up the East Coast. After a few years of pursuing and winning contracts in the utilities vertical, we continued to expand our business verticals in advertising and marketing to higher education institutions, government and transportation agencies, political campaigns, convention centers and sports arenas.

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    So, for me and for SRB Communications, pivoting the business was about learning that we had to sell what our clients want and need. Too often a business fails because they provide services that their customers are no longer looking for. SRB Communications was a TV production company but the market shifted, so we had to do the same. In sports, there’s a saying, “Be where the ball is going, not where it is.” Look at your market, figure out what your customers need, and if you can have the capabilities, be that. Sell what clients need, not just what you have.

    Business is unforgiving and to survive you have to stay on your toes. Pivoting leads to a business that is flexible enough to surpass those vulnerable years where many fail. Your business is in fact not yours; it belongs to the customers you serve. The customers decide if you succeed or fail, so it’s best that you listen intently to their needs.

  • July 7, 2020

    OpEd: We can’t allow the public health emergency to worsen DC’s child care crisis

    Shared adversity can bring a community together, and I’m happy to see that greater Washington is responding in solidarity in the face of both racial inequality and the immense public health challenge of COVID-19. 

    These two problems are intertwined. In addition to its tragic human cost, the pandemic has elevated the risk that existing inequality of opportunity in the District may worsen.

    Here in DC, we face significant opportunity gaps from ward to ward. For example, as of 2018, at least 12% of children were living in poverty in six of DC’s eight wards. However, in wards 7 and 8, that rate exceeded 39%. Ward 8 also has the highest number of children under age 5 and an infant mortality rate that is more than double the national average.

    This tells us that, when it comes to giving people the tools to develop and build their talents, we need to start early. Thankfully, the city made progress on this front by passing the Birth-to-Three for All DC Act of 2018, an important stride toward making sure that all young children have access to quality early childhood programs.

    However, without supporting the act with additional measures and meaningful investments, the opportunity gaps that plague our city will persist — and will do so in a way that impacts young people’s educational prospects and their future career prospects.

    One of these challenges is the lack of access to affordable, high-quality child care.

    Even before the pandemic, our nation was in the midst of a child care crisis, as demonstrated in a recent ReadyNation report. The report found that the lack of high-quality, affordable child care for infants and toddlers (children age 0 to 3) exacts a heavy toll on working families and our economy, costing our economy an incredible $57 billion per year. The reason this figure is so high is the dramatic, negative impact that the crisis has on productivity, tax revenue and workers’ earnings.

    And it’s no wonder why. Like many places around the country, DC has far more infants and toddlers than it does available high-quality child care. At the same time, the average cost of child care in the District is more than the average price of public, in-state college tuition in most places around the country.

    The child care crisis is also a two-generation problem. As working parents scramble to find care, children often wind up in less-than-ideal early childhood settings. Those experiences create impacts that society won’t feel until these children grow into their teenage years or adulthood. 

    Without access to high-quality learning and care during this critical time, a child’s chances of being “kindergarten-ready” diminish. That deficit on day one of elementary school may persist for the duration of the child’s educational career, which, in turn, leads to those opportunity gaps I mentioned a moment ago.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has made funding child care infrastructure even more urgent. Most child care providers are fundamentally small businesses, and many of them face economic hardship, even closure. 

    As a journalist, entrepreneur, business owner and longtime advocate for equity and women’s issues, I understand that these topics are inextricably tied to the child care industry. Providers now feel unprecedented pressures on their own bottom line, and the families they serve are enduring immense hardships. Therefore, we must commit to supporting, strengthening and maintaining the child care infrastructure now, so that the existing child care crisis isn’t worsened by our current health emergency. 

    There are more than 26,500 infants and toddlers under age 3 in DC, but only about 7,600 licensed child care slots. COVID-19 has the potential to make this situation even more dire, with some providers having no choice but to close absent sufficient support for the child care sector. Investments to preserve existing slots and help make up this shortfall will pay dividends to greater Washington now and in the future. Likewise, funding that helps parents navigate a system that costs, on average, $2,020 per month per infant will help ease that imposing financial burden on lower-income families.

    Protecting the child care sector is critical. Investments to do so will make businesses and working parents more productive today, and help ensure that the next generation of Washingtonians will grow up better prepared to leverage their talents and build the future we all want — a stronger and more equitable community over the long run.

    This OpEd was written by Sheila Brooks, Ph.D., founder, president and CEO of SRB Communications. It was originally published here by The DC Line, a nonprofit media organization dedicated to covering DC local news.