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Windows to Business Success Archives

Small Business Competitions

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Winning business and industry awards can provide you with a way to set your business apart from the competition, attract new customers and employees while retaining existing ones, and be considered part of the elite category of women who've been designated as remarkable leaders. All too often, however, entrepreneurs fail to do the research and put in the time necessary to create a really great winning entry. Keep reading for a few tips and reminders as well as some awards currently accepting applications:
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Pioneers of Women's Entrepreneurship (Part 2)

When Carol Dougal and I founded the Women's Business Development Center 25 years ago, we had no idea that it'd grow to help over 65,000 women start and expand their businesses.  Or that some of those first businesses we assisted would have such tremendous growth.  Their successes inspire us to dream big about what the next 25 years could hold for the future of women's entrepreneurship.

I hope you enjoy their stories as much as we've enjoyed sharing them with you.  Don't forget to check out Part 1 of this post and the March issue of Today's Chicago Woman magazine for more pioneering stories!

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Pioneers of Women's Entrepreneurship (Part 1)

As I wrote about earlier this month, this year's Women's History Month has special significance to us at the Women's Business Development Center. We're celebrating our 25th anniversary, and to show you what women's entrepreneurship is all about, we're featuring 25 pioneering, successful women who started their businesses about the same time we did, many with our help.

I'm devoting two blog posts to sharing their photos and stories, and I hope you'll celebrate their successes with us. To learn more about their stories, pick up the March issue of Today's Chicago Woman magazine.

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WBDC Celebrates Women's History Month


March is Women's History Month, and March 8th is International Women's Day. We at the WBDC have lots to celebrate-the amazing progress women have made politically and economically and, of course, our 25th anniversary of serving over 65,000 women in the Chicago Metropolitan area.

25 years ago, less than 10% of U.S. businesses were women-owned.  That dismal statistic was the impetus for Carol Dougal and I to launch the Women's Business Development Center in 1986 to help women start and expand their businesses.  It was a revolutionary concept back then, but we believed that women - many of them - wanted to be their own boss.

Today, Chicago is home to virtually thousands of women-owned businesses.  Nationwide, more than 10 million businesses are owned by women, employing more than 12 million people and generating almost $2 trillion in sales. 

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Happy Valentine's Day! (Small Business Style)

This year, we've decided to skip the Valentine's Day cynicism and go straight for the feel-good warm and fuzzies. On the WBDC Facebook page, we asked small business owners to tell us, "Who do you love for making your small business life a little better?" Then, we asked the same question to some of our business counselors. We've compiled all these shout-outs from contributors in their own words, and let me tell you, you can't help but love these people! They're innovative and dedicated; they go above and beyond to keep area small businesses going. Reading through them can't help but make your Valentine's Day better (especially if you're one of the people mentioned).  Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

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Small Business Recovery: Thoughts from a WBDC Business Counselor

What a difference a recovery makes!  As I reflect on my wonderful work here at the Women's Business Development Center helping people building businesses at all stages, I've been thinking about the changes I have experienced over three Januarys.

January 2009
I came to the WBDC right before the big free fall of the Great Recession in late '08.  Clients I saw in January '09 had often just been let go from their jobs, and feeling desperate, they were exploring business development because it was an alternative way to make money.  They were extremely anxious, fearful and motivated but not focused on what they could bring to the market place.  They often were grasping for "what was working" and trying to do something in that arena. Most had never owned a business before, most did not understand that they needed clients/customers and money to start a business in addition to a business concept.

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Growing Industries for Small Business Start-ups

At the Women's Business Development Center we see clients with a variety of business ideas, and as a business counselor, I ask that they also look within themselves to discover their passions and strengths. This is a great way to discover what type of business would best suit you, and it is imperative to discover these passions before opening your business. Running your business will entail working long, hard hours, and passion can help you keep going.

Once you know yourself and your passions, it's also a good idea to know what industries are currently growing - often the intersection of a growing industry and your passions can be the site of the perfect business for you. Below are some of the fastest growing industries of 2010, as ranked by Within these fast growing industries, I will share with you what our own clients have shared me on their journey to find their passion.  

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'Tis the Season to Support Your Local Small Businesses

Christmas gift with tree in background

Most of my super-organized, plan-ahead friends have already completed their holiday shopping.  They were up at 3:00 a.m. on Black Friday and took advantage of the online deals during Cyber Monday and the following days.  I'm still making my list and checking it twice.  And while I love a great deal (I'm currently subscribed to at least five group buying deal sites such as Groupon), I'm hoping that holiday shoppers this year will realize that there's more to a good deal than just a rock-bottom price.

I'm talking about thinking about where the money goes for all your holiday purchases.  Yes, I know that many of us are still recovering from the economy (I'll definitely be giving some homemade gifts this year), but I still have a list of people to buy for, and like all consumers, I have a choice of where to spend my money.

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Calling All Women Business Owners in the Consumer Products Sector!

Woman shopping for beauty products

Many women business owners develop and manufacture amazing products, but lack the resources to land shelf space with the nation's top retailers. For most, the data needed to understand sales trends is too costly and getting the attention of a buyer is difficult, at best.

Well, enter the Women's Business Development Center and the 2010 Consumer Product Goods Competition. Launched by The Nielsen Company, the WBDC and Walgreens this competition is an awesome opportunity, and we'll admit it - we're shamelessly plugging it.

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WBDC Launches Small Business Microloan Program

Loan Officer Shaking Woman's Hand

Access to capital has always been a major problem for small businesses, particularly for newly-formed businesses or those looking to expand, and even more so in the recent economic downturn.  The number one inquiry we get at the WBDC is regarding business financing and if we provide loans to small businesses.  While the WBDC has always provided loan packaging services, through a partnership with the IL Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, we are now implementing a new small business microloan program.

So what is a microloan? A microloan is a small (hence the "micro" in microloan) loan, typically for small business development or expansion, to individuals who don't have access to traditional sources of credit due to a lack of collateral, poor credit scores or credit history, etc.  Microlending is also known as microcredit, which is a part of microfinance, the provision of a wide range of financial services to low-income clients or solidarity lending groups, typically women, all over the world. 

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WBDC 24th Annual Entrepreneurial Woman's Conference

The Women's Business Development Center held it's 24th Annual Entrepreneurial Woman's Conference on September 22, 2010 at Chicago's McCormick Place-West, attracting over 2,000 participants seeking contract opportunities and resources to start or expand their businesses.  Check out some of the conference highlights below and make sure to view our entire photo album here!

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Green Procurement Strategies

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Corporations and government agencies are purchasing with sustainability in mind, much like individuals are becoming more eco-conscious in our own purchasing decisions.  In the same way that we may now reach for the organic strawberries or reusable containers instead of disposable, corporations and government agencies are seeking suppliers whose products and services are less harmful to local and global environments.  These decisions aren't just the right thing to do but are also good for their bottom line as green purchasing offers corporations and government agencies new ways to reduce overall costs.

All this means that there are new business opportunities for women and minority-owned businesses as corporations and government agencies adopt "Green Procurement Strategies."  Certified Women's Business Enterprises and Minority Business Enterprises now have even more value to add to corporate and government supplier diversity programs.

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Networking Part 3: Follow-up


Last time, we focused on what to do before a networking event.  The time before that, we discussed what to do at the event, and now, it is time to focus on what you must do after a networking event to make sure you maximize the investment of time and money you just made!

Remember your objectives (e.g. develop relationships, offer referrals and get referrals).  You are not done until you input the relevant business cards you gathered into your contact base.  So, on your way home or within 12 hours of the event:

  • Look at and read each business card you received
  • Identify where you met them, why you will contact them and when
  • Set a goal to reach a few contacts a day, or set aside a 1-2 hour slot per week, and reward yourself for making those initiatives to reconnect!
  • Follow your plan--most businesses fail because they don't; those who succeed have a plan and work it.
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Networking Part 2: Preparation


Nothing beats face to face for some products/services - especially people services. Last time, we talked about what you should do at a networking event, like WBDC's Connection Points Industry/Service Specific networking series. Today we talk about preparation. Developing criteria for attending a networking function and/or joining an association or organization will help you decide what events and organizations are best for you and your business.

Some considerations:

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What is Networking?


So...exactly what is networking? There are many different definitions, but ultimately it's about connecting - meeting, exchanging information and ideas, and staying connected. defines networking as "Creating a group of acquaintances and associates and keeping it active through regular communication for mutual benefit. Networking is based on the question "How can I help?" and not "What can I get?"

Here are 5 reminders for effective networking:

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Join Us at the 24th Annual Entrepreneurial Woman's Conference!

For some people, August means the end of summer freedom and getting ready to go back to school.  For us at the Women's Business Development Center, however, August is Conference Preparation Time.  This year we're gearing up for our 24th Annual Entrepreneurial Woman's Conference, the oldest and best (we admit we might be slightly biased) conference and business opportunities fair for women in business in the country.  This year's conference will be held September 22, 2010 at Chicago's McCormick Place-West.

Check out these pictures from last year's conference and get a feel for what you can experience this year.  There really is something to benefit every business owner, whether you're just starting out or are an experienced veteran.  Register before August 31, 2010 to take advantage of early-bird prices!  Register here - we hope to see you September 22!

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One Franchisee Shares Her Story

For more information on Maui Wowi, please visit their website.

Let's Take a Break from this Mobile Craze!

Having recently been employed by a mobile provider, it was easy to let myself become obsessed with my mobile device. I think that's true for many women, especially business women, to let ourselves get caught up in this wireless revolution. Yes, it's great to have wireless technology as a means to be productive in both our professional and personal lives, but when does it cross the line? When does it become too much?  If you'd asked me that a few months ago, I would have defensively said never, and maybe even denied that my smart-phone had become my most prized possession... let me rephrase, my most prized fixation.
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Hot Summer Deals!

Everyone loves a good sale.  Whether you're looking for a new handbag or a summer makeover, from cleaning services to office supplies, Chicago-area women-owned businesses are offering some great deals!

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Work-Life Balance and All the Joy You Can Stand


Summertime is here!!  I don't know about you, but I always get such a thrill when I can say those words.  It starts when the trees first begin to bud in Chicago - makes me feel like a kid again as I shout, "oohhh, goody...there are leaves on the trees, so that means summer is close behind!"  Summertime also conjures up thoughts of sitting outside, eating ice cream, popsicles, dreamsicles...or your favorite treat and shooting the breeze with your buddies and girlfriends.  These joyful and blissful thoughts can help you feel good - and relaxed (no matter what the season).

However, in today's world, many of us have businesses to run, careers to manage and families to take care capturing those little moments of bliss can be challenging.  If we're not careful, managing the day-to-day demands and stresses can suck up our taking-care-of-ourselves moments.  There was a time when the boundaries between work and home were fairly clear. But, today work is likely to invade our personal lives -- and maintaining work-life balance is no simple task. Still, work-life balance isn't out of reach. There are many actions you can take in your quest to gain that balance.  These include great tips like: tracking your time, getting plenty of rest, learning to say 'no' and leaving work at work.  In addition to the 'things' you can do, the attitudes and perceptions about the demands and stresses of your life are also essential for achieving the life-work balance (i.e. the internal stuff). 

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Time Is Money

As a small business owner, it is true that every minute of your time can be either an opportunity cost or an opportunity gain to your business. However, every entrepreneur I have consulted with has eventually come to the realization that spending time working on the business is time well spent. It takes time to get there, but once there, it's like you've programmed the GPS of your business to take you to your successes.
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It's Showtime! (or How to Make the Most of a Trade Show)

Getting face-to-face with multiple potential buyers can be a fantastic way to promote your business, products and services and increase your contacts with customers. A recent Tradeshow Week poll found that businesses spend up to 42 percent of their marketing budgets on trade shows. Before you participate in the next trade show, give some thought to how you can maximize the experience and get a return on your investment of time and money.

Follow these 10 easy steps to optimize your trade show experience:
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Small Business Certification

Many small business owners are somewhat familiar with certification, but aren't sure if it is a tool that will benefit them.  In short, certification of a small business is a review process that gives formal acknowledgment that a business venture is owned and operated by a qualifying person or people, who are underrepresented in an industry.  In general, to become certified a business must be independently owned and operated, must be organized for profit, and cannot be dominate in its field or industry.

The most common business certifications include: Minority Business Enterprise (MBE); Women's Business Enterprise (WBE); Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE); 8(a) Designation; HUBZone Business Enterprise (HUB); and Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise (DVBE).

Certification is sought by qualified businesses to help leverage contracts within the private and public sectors.  Certification can be an important marketing tool for expanding a company's visibility with procurement decision-makers.

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12th Annual Child Care Business Expo

On Saturday, May 22 the Women's Business Development Center (WBDC) presented the 12th Annual Child Care Business Expo at the Chicago Hilton and Towers.  The 2010 Child Care Business Expo offered child care entrepreneurs an energizing day of reflection and action for their businesses, providing access to creative solutions to today's business issues and a much-needed network of resources and support.

The Expo is the only event of its kind in the nation--a unique one-stop clearinghouse for child care business solutions, resources, products, information and services for everyone from seasoned child care entrepreneurs to those just starting out.  The entire event is presented bilingually in Spanish and English.

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Mothers of Invention - Inventive Women who Changed the World

Women by nature are problem solvers.  Faced with a problem, women find a solution - even if it means inventing one.  As Plato once said, "Necessity is the mother of invention."  The first U.S. patent was issued to a woman in 1809, but until 1840, only 20 other patents were issued to women.  Not surprisingly, the inventions related to apparel, tools, cook stoves and fireplaces.  Today, with access to specialized training and broader job opportunities, women are applying their creativity to solving new problems, including those requiring technological, scientific and mathematical skills.

The most recent patent statistics available from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office state that in 2002 women invented 10.9% of the inventions patented. There's no way to know all the women who deserve credit for their creative labor - the Patent and Trademark Office does not require gender, racial or ethnic identification in patent or trademark applications. However, there's enough statistical data to suggest that there are plenty of good reasons to encourage young girls and women to pursue science, math and technology based courses and careers to continue the legacy of great Mothers of Invention.
Here's a few women inventors you should know...

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Learning from Gamers

As I was preparing to write this blog, I came across a surprising (at least to me) source of inspiration.  It was a speech by Jane McGonigal, who directs game R&D at the Institute for the Future and developed Superstruct (an online game).  Now I know nothing about gaming - in my mind (if I gave it any thought!), it is something that would be relegated to teens and young men staring intently at TV and computer screens, playing a bunch of war/fighting macho games and winning points.

But, if I step back a bit, and think about it from a business perspective, and consider the industry of gaming, I could certainly broaden my imagery and begin to include all of the other evidence of this vibrant industry.  My vision would expand to include the retail game stores, aisles of games in video and other stores, online games, the big excitement when companies like Play Station, Nintendo and Wii are coming out with new models...and of course, the games themselves.
So, back to my inspiration for this blog.  Ms. McGonigal, whose presentation you can watch on (a great web site!), talked about the four skills that all good gamers develop:  urgent optimism, social fabric, blissful productivity and epic meaning.  According to Ms. McGonigal, gamers are always going for the Epic Win.  As I listened to her presentation, I was struck by how as small business owner 'gamers', these skills also apply to us.  

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Networking and...Golf?

As the spring nears, get prepared to have your networking in gear.  Although it is important to think about networking all year round, somehow spring seems to call for a golf outing as an opportunity for networking. Even though people may think that women and golf don't always go together (partly due to the fact that golf is a sport predominantly dominated by men), you may like to give it a try, given the personal and business benefits. I am excited to try it for the first time; here are a few noteworthy reasons that convinced me to sign up for my first golf lesson: 
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Making every day Earth Day

The Women's Business Development Center applauds Mayor Daley and the City of Chicago for advancing awareness about environmentally-friendly changes taking place in offices around the City. This is a pivotal opportunity that will pay big dividends by permanently lowering business operating expenses. 

Running a green office is also a great marketing tool to attract green-minded clients and get employees on board to create a global green economy. Join fellow Chicagoans who are taking the Green Office Challenge in honor of Earth Day 2010.  Make every day Earth Day by following some of these suggestions.  Find even more ideas on the Chicago Green Office Challenge website.

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Key Steps to Federal Procurement Success

Getting new business is an ongoing challenge for every small company.  To succeed, you have to know the best way to use your limited resources to target your best prospects.  If you choose to market and sell to the federal government and its prime contractors, it is essential to understand (1) how purchasing decisions are made, and (2) how to navigate the government's resources, opportunities, rules and regulations.  Since the federal government spends more than $350 billion on goods and services, you may decide that it's worth the effort!

Perhaps the biggest procurement challenge facing most small businesses is identifying their best prospects within governments and corporations.  The federal government has hundreds of agencies, administrations and bureaus, and it might not be obvious which of them have a need for your products or services.  These key steps can help you start on your way to federal contracting success: 

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Illinois Small Business Job Creation Tax Credit

As part of the State of Illinois fiscal year 2011 budget, Governor Pat Quinn is proposing the Illinois Small Business Job Creation Tax Credit.  This proposed legislation creates a $2,500 tax credit (that can be carried forward) on withholding tax for employers with 50 or fewer total employees who hire new, full-time Illinois employees during the 12-month period beginning July 1, 2010.  It is estimated that this tax credit will help create up to 20,000 jobs.

The credit would be available to qualifying employers for each new, full-time Illinois job created and sustained for at least one year.  To qualify, a job must pay at least $25,000 per year, and calculation of the net increase in the number of Illinois employees will be based on the employer's number of Illinois employees as of June 30, 2010.  The legislation proposes a cap of $50 million on the total amount of credits issued.

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How to Work a Tradeshow

The Chicago Business Opportunities Fair (CBOF) was held this past week at Chicago's Navy Pier, providing Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs) the chance to meet with corporate and government agencies looking to identify diverse suppliers.  The Women's Business Development Center's Annual Entrepreneurial Woman's Conference isn't too far off at this point either - Wednesday, September 22nd at McCormick Place West.

So, what's the best way to work a trade show and maximize the benefits for your business?  Here are the basics:

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Healthcare and Small Businesses

Small businesses are the driving force of our economy, and we must know how new healthcare legislation will affect us as individual business owners, small business employees and the small business itself.  The recent healthcare bill can also be a positive tool for the economy as it can inspire entrepreneurism.  The following are some drafted legislation points from The Economic Effects of Health Care Reform on Small Businesses and Their Employees Report (July 2009):
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