Location, Location, Location; Where to locate your Business

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column Published on 04/15/17, a www.SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Source: Before picking out a location to start your business, consider the many factors of its potential location, as this issue is a key contributor to a business’s success or failure.

Now that you have chosen the type of business to establish and the products and/or services you will be offering for sale, it is time to determine a location for your business. Most small business owners choose a location based on their own perception of where they think the business might be a good fit. The reason for this is that many small business owners make this decision and choice about their business location based on emotion. Maybe you like a particular community or town, or maybe you spent your childhood there and the location is in close proximity to family and friends. Today business owners need to rely on data to help them make the best decision on where to locate their business, so that the business has the most optimum chance in succeeding.

The reality and hard disappointment is that your business will not survive if you are relying on only your friends and family to patron your enterprise. New relationships in a potential business location’s community will be the driver to client acquisition, for if you are specializing in a product or service, you will want to make sure the demographic of the potential consumers within that market region will be a good fit for your offering. For example, if you are offering high end hand crafted furniture, you would want to locate your business in a town or community where the population would appreciate your value creation and have the disposable income to spend money on your goods or services.

You might want to consider a store front location in a community or town surrounded by upper middle class home owners that appreciate hand crafted quality and are willing to spend the money on higher quality goods. This community may or may not be the same community or town in which you live. Your target market is one of the most important factors in deciding where your business will be located.

In addition to aligning your business products and services with the ideal clientele, you should consider additional contributing factors to how well your business may do in a specific location. Ask yourself, “will this potential location transfer the message of my brand image?” Consumers need to identify your business from miles away, and in a quick moment of time. Does the location provide the best representation for your business? For instance, if you have a business that makes and sells clothing, would you rather have a store front designed as a welcoming specialty boutique or would you rather be located in an office building where foot traffic may be limited?

You need to review your competition. Though it is true that your business is indirectly competing against every cash register in the world, on a local level you may want to examine the proximity and amount of competition. If you plan to open a barber shop or hair salon you will want to make sure the local area is not saturated with many of the same type of businesses. A saturation of the same type of businesses in a small local proximity means you will need to invest more money into customer outreach and marketing; a necessity most business owners find as only a luxury.

In turn you may want to consider indirect competition. These are businesses that may be in the same industry sector, however they may not offer the exact same product lines or services that you do. A pharmacy and a natural food and health store would be considered indirect competition, as they might be able to complement each other. The pharmacy may offer health and wellness products via traditional medicine, while the natural foods and health store might carry a complete line of natural homeopathic remedies and products. This is healthy competition because it offers the consumer real alternatives and choices on how to solve their health and wellness concerns. You will also notice many businesses such as a dry cleaner, a bank, post office, pharmacy, and take out restaurant in the same strip mall or plaza as a large grocery store. These are complementary businesses, as they may cater to the same customer multiple times and for different reasons; usually the convenience of having these entire day to day customer services in one place.

If your business requires employees to help operate the day to day functions of the business, you might want to research the availability of qualified labor market candidates.  Many business owners complain that good help is hard to find, and that can be due to the limited number of potential employees to choose from that may be a proper fit for the business. If you do find the ideal employee, how far would they have to commute to your location? What perks or incentives would you have to offer employees for them to sacrifice time in the car in commuting to your business each day?

Many business owners think in two modes: the here and now, and the vision of twenty or thirty years from now. In the event your business is successful, a move to a larger location after you have sunk tens of thousands of dollars retrofitting your space today can be a costly mistake if you fail to initially plan your growth. If you think your business needs one thousand square foot today, the likelihood it will need to double its size of space in a year, if it is successful, is highly likely; especially if your business is retail oriented.

A hardware store carries thousands of products and bar codes. Every local corner neighborhood hardware store I have visited in the past five years has starved for additional space; with products being stacked to the ceiling. This is because new products for home use are constantly being offered. The more product choices, the more brands your retail space offers, the more potential clients you may get to patron your store. Think in terms of three to five years down the road. If a space is too big, it is usually more negotiable to back out of space with a landlord than bump your business neighbor out of their current location so you can take over their space.

How close are you to your vendors and/or suppliers? If being within a range of distance to your vendors/or suppliers makes a difference to you, then this factor will also be a determining factor of where your business is located. If you use a third party to manufacturer your goods and need to have a close relationship with members of your supply chain daily, then your location should be within a day’s drive of your suppliers. If your goods are delivered to you from a national warehouse, then the cost of delivery and freight may be a factor.

Safety should also be considered. Your employees would not favor working in a neighborhood that has a high crime rate. Your business could also fall victim to crime, as looters and thieves may see your retail location as a target for their caper. Rents in high crime areas may be less, but the risk may be higher.

Will the potential location offer enough parking for your customers and employees? Many towns have a requirement on how many parking spaces a business location must have based on the square footage the business occupies. Traffic should also be examined. Is there enough vehicle traffic nearby that will provide exposure of your business to potential customers? Is the potential business location on a busy Main Street or located in the back ally of a down town cluster, blocked off by other industrial settings?

Before signing a lease, check with your local zoning and planning department to see if your type of business would be permissible at the potential business location. Not all commercial buildings are created equal. Some towns and cities have very strict zoning laws regulating where specific types of businesses may be located, as well as the permissible use of different types of commercial facilities.

Once you have conducted our preliminary research, now it is time to take a hard look at cost. There is the upfront cost of renting a business location such as the monthly rent/lease cost, property taxes and property maintenance fees.  There are indirect costs that can creep up over time and chew into a business owner’s profits. These costs include the hidden cost of preparing the space for your business use. Most commercial space will need to be finished or renovated to accommodate the business purpose. Alterations are considered improvements to a property and will be taxed accordingly. Other taxes such as sales and use tax, payroll tax, business income tax, will vary state to state.

Is your business location in an economic business development (EBD) zone? These zones are established by public policy and either receive tax break incentives for local job creation and/or has additional local licensing fees, which the business is required to pay; these licensing fees are sometimes used to aid in relief of the cost of workforce development and on the job training.

Minimum wage also varies state to state. Many businesses may offer higher starting wages than minimum wage. Minimum wage is usually reserved for very low skilled jobs, sometimes fulfilled by either students or retired seniors that desire to work for part time income. The rise in minimum wage in some states made it impossible for some small business owners to hire help because the rate of minimum wage might be higher than the return on investment on the job tasks assigned to the employee.

Another vital piece of data every business owner needs to know regarding the town or region their business potentially might be located, is if the area is business friendly. This concept extends beyond just the potential customer. Having a clear understanding about how laws and regulations are imposed upon businesses as well as how fees, penalties, and fines are assessed to businesses is critical in knowing how much of your profits may be at risk to hungry government representatives eager to increase government revenue via enforcement actions.

So, what states are the best and worst for your potential business location?  There are several reports that vary in opinions of the “best” states for small business locations. I say if your business solves a problem and provides a common product or service critically needed by any community, and as long as you are customer service driven, then your business has a chance of being successful.

One of the best ways to find out if a local town, city, county, or state is profitable for your business, is to go interview business owners in your industry sector on their experiences of why they like or don’t like their business location. You can ask them a series of questions such as: how long they have been in their location, the potential customer foot traffic that visits their store front, the cost of how much marketing they must invest in order to reach potential consumers, staff turn-over, regulatory climate, and other common business concerns important to your industry sector.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who author’s articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently is the CEO and President of Extreme Energy Solutions Inc., a green tech company located in Ogdensburg, New Jersey. Samuel K. Burlum lends his expertise as a Consultant and Managing Director of ESLC Inc., a consulting firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration

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Product or Service; Which Do You Choose to Offer?

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column Published on 02/15/17, a www.SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Source: Now that you have decided on the type of business you desire to own, a small business owner must carefully consider which products and/or services it will offer to potential customers. Do you want to have a retail business, or do you want to be a service based provider? There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of business offering situation.

Making the decision to become a business owner is a substantial undertaking. After the initial decision to do so, you will need to give consideration to the next steps which include your specific industry interest, and then whether you desire to offer a product or a service, or both. Owning a business that sells products can be a costly investment depending on the type of business you are planning on opening. On the other hand, selling services that are intangible relies on your ability to transfer confidence about your expert skill sets. In choosing whether to offer a product or to be a service oriented business, there are advantages and disadvantages with the types of value proposition offerings.

Developing a business that sells products can offer several advantages in terms of business growth and financial reward. Products are tangible items (they can be held in one’s hand prior to any financial exchange), allowing an individual to identify with a product quicker since they can use their senses to make a judgement and a decision to purchase the product. You can see what a product looks like, how it tastes (if is a food product), how it smells, how it sounds (if it makes sounds), how it feels (like clothing or a tool that you hold in your hand).  Consumers have an opportunity to visually inspect the product they may choose to purchase, which allows for consumers to elevate their risk by taking a chance on the product.  Products are simpler to validate by the potential end user. The customer has an out if they are not happy with their purchase; usually they can return the item to the store.

A customer can predict what the expectation might be based on previous purchases of the same or similar product. There is a sense of product continuity, that each time a customer purchases a said product, they feel more comfortable based on their previous buying decision. This leads to a quicker closing rate on the sale of the product. If someone chooses not to purchase the product, then it can be reserved for the next potential customer.

Most national brand products already have large marketing machines in place to drive public awareness and educate potential customers about the product you might offer in your store. So having these products in your store where there is already an existing market demand increases the chances of potential foot traffic to your store. The product business relies on brand recognition.

In today’s market, products can be sold globally, and shipped just about anywhere. Store owners are no longer limited to just their own zip code. With product sales, advertising and marketing can be targeted toward a larger demographic and geographic set of potential clients. The name of the sales game for products is to sell product in either large volume to a small number of clients or take many small orders from a high volume of clients.

The downside of a product based business is initial investment into a store location and the upfront cost of inventory. According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, the average cost per square foot of retail lease space in 2015 was per $41 square foot.  Ace Hardware advocates that the optimum store size should be 10,000 square foot, which could be quite costly for many new business owners just beginning. The investment needed to fully stock a new hardware store or family owned pharmacy that is capable of competing against a big box retailer location will cost a small business owner up to millions of dollars in order to be ready to open their doors, and have ample supply of goods available for consumers. In today’s market, consumers demand more product choices in multiple product categories, so stores must offer the customer service model of convenience. This allows the business owner to make available these multiple choices and product mix to potential customers in order to be dubbed the “one stop shop”.

When your business is a product driven model, there are additional risks you must be aware of. Even if you have the proper funding to fill your store and/or warehouse full of inventory, there are still the issues of shrink and loss due to damages. Shrink is internal theft from employees, which does happen. An employee may not think it’s a big deal to remove a product for their own sample use, however, when that employee does not account for the product, it results in shrink. Some employees do intentionally steal products from their employers, as they feel one box or one can will not hurt anyone, but it does when it adds up in the loss column.

Damaged inventory is also a loss to the store owner. Inventory that is either shipped or received damaged, is inventory lost. Most damages happen during the shipping process of inventory to and from the warehouse, as sometimes a forklift operator may have not noticed they misjudged moving a pallet of product around, and it becomes dented and damaged.

Some disadvantages of having a product based business can be overcome, allowing for higher profitability and customer satisfaction. Having an accurate inventory control system in place will allow for you to house just the right amount of inventory in your store, based on historical consumer data, thus limiting the risk of having overstocked an item. By offering a program to your clients that they can order whatever they need, which is not yet stocked in your store, with a two or three day turn around will allow for you to still service the sale, while not having to stock everything that may not sell on a regular basis.

Employee training on the importance of monitoring shrink as well as reviewing the best practices in logistics, shipping, receiving, and warehousing, will assist you in decreasing lost or damaged inventory.  There is no getting around the cost of renting space, however there are some things you can do to get more for your rental dollar, such as negotiating for grounds keeping services, community fees, and other areas of financial value in your lease agreement.

Today, it’s not just about what is on the shelf at your store front. There are several online tools available in marketing a product over the internet, allowing you to make contact with potential clients outside your physical store location’s zip code. Amazon has become the premier platform of choice for selling merchandise online by local merchants; followed by EBAY, and other partnered sales sites such as Keep America.com which promote products that are manufactured stateside. With the evolution of online commerce and social media marketing, the traditional brick and mortar store front is only half of the available opportunity for many locally owned retailer merchants offering unique brands and/or specialty product.

Marketing a product based business has more options for the business owner. A business owner can piggyback on national product recognition and ad campaigns in creating awareness that these popular products are at his or her store. If your store is part of a cooperative group, the cooperative group usually supplies a recipe for investing into local brand awareness in contrast to other competing products and stores. Marketing and advertising options are endless. You must ask yourself, what are you really selling? In many cases products have a brand identity that must accompany the product.

The cost of setting up a product based business varies depending on a number of variables. These costs will be driven partially by the decision you the business owner makes. Do you choose to sell a limited product line from home as an internet based business or are you prepared to open up a full blown retail location, with tens of thousands of product selections? Do you start small with a limited store front or do you take a chance and open a large retail location? How many employees do you think you will need in the beginning to staff your operation or do you start off as the single owner-operator?

Some new business owners opt to offer their expertise as well as their skill sets in the form of services offered. The upside to owning a business that is more service oriented is that you have minimal, if any inventory to stock. Your services offered are not limited to the product’s limitations. For example, if your service business is building decks, you can design and build a deck according to the vision the potential client may have. A service business allows for the business owner to be more personalized and creative when providing services to each individual client. Your service should focus on solving a customer’s need in which they may not have the skills or expertise in providing for themselves. In essence, the business owner and what he or she can do for the client is the product they are selling, along with selling themselves; as in their character, reputation, and expertise.

For instance, if you offer business consulting services, your start-up costs are low, however your upfront investment is the years of experience, education, and understanding of how a business works. These are the tools of the trade. If you decide to begin a property maintenance business, you will have to invest into lawn and building maintenance equipment, a service truck or two, and you may have to hire some help depending on the job at hand.

Your services will be more targeted; as your goal is not to have the highest volume of clients, but the highest rate of quality client demand that results in higher revenue. A service based business will focus on more personalized and customer needs rather than the average cookie cutter mass produced model. This type of model will allow for service based business owners to network with the most desired potential clientele. Service businesses must directly market to specific clients, and usually will prospect for customers inside a radius within the business’s home location. For example, a landscape and property maintenance business would not market to potential customers thousands of miles away, for the obvious logistical reasons that would make the endeavor not profitable for the business owner. Your goal is to provide the highest quality of services to the highest quality of clients, in performing the most work for a smaller list of clients.

A service business can opt not to have a store front. Most service businesses which surround home services (a masonry, carpentry, or landscaping business) many times operate out of their home; saving cost on a rental location. Other service based businesses like a hair salon or dry cleaner, rely on having a retailer location that allows for walk in foot traffic. A service business will focus on the need of the client, where the business is providing a service or skill set the potential client may not possess themselves.

Because a service is intangible, it may be more difficult to connect and close deals with potential customers of your service if they cannot visualize the final result of the service you offer. Potential clients may be hesitant of purchasing a service even if their need of the service is great, because they cannot physically evaluate the outcome of their own buying decision. A service based business will experience a longer sales cycle because there is usually price and service negotiations, client contracts to review, and final review of the services provided, which in some cases will hold up final payment to the business owner.

Potential customers will rely on judgement calls when purchasing a service. Is the service provider trustworthy? Is the service provider of good character? Potential clients have a clear understanding that they cannot return a service once its provided, so they are more cautious in making a decision. For this, most potential customers will desire to get the most dollar value out of the service they are purchasing, since the value proposition is beyond just the service itself. The consumer realizes that part of the value exchange is the experience of the journey through having the service provided to them.

Service based businesses can overcome their unique challenges by offering the client a trial period for their services; giving the potential client the feeling they have an out if they are not happy with the service. This helps in removing some of the barriers that tend to go up during the negotiation of the purchase of a service. Providing a list of referrals and references which the potential customer may call would be prudent. It would also be most helpful if the referrals and references are current clients of the business that have already purchased the same or similar services to fulfill their needs. The importance of this is to communicate confidence to the prospective client that whether the sales representative (who may or may not also be the business owner), would be involved in providing the service, or if there are other individuals involved in providing a service, there is a quality connection of skills and service made through this business transaction.

A service is more challenging to promote, because there is nothing physical someone can hold in their hand. When marketing a service, it is more at the conceptual level of what the potential outcome and experience could be for the potential client. When pitching a service, the business owner must convey the message and the value of the service they are going to provide, clearly. The business owner must be able to be flexible and adjust their service offering to each client situation, for no situations are alike. Granted, if you are in the business of selling dry cleaning services, each individual client will have different needs; attention to the slightest of details will make all the difference whether or not the client returns to that dry cleaner in the future. The service industry relies on personal relationships and reliability. The potential client must have total confidence and belief in your ability to deliver upon your promises and skill sets. Therefore, it is necessary to provide your “why you are passionate about your business” and how that helps you deliver the best services available to your clients.

The start-up cost of service based business is much lower than that of a product based retailer location. Depending on the type of services your business will offer, will determine the type of investment you will need to make in order to fulfill customer demand.  The startup cost of a service provider will also depend on the type of industry and service offered.  In comparison, someone that wants to start up a landscape business will have far more up-front investment cost in equipment than someone that is providing consulting services to other businesses. A service business usually has to invest more money into marketing and branding their own individual brand identity, because in many cases of the service business, the business owner and their skill sets are the brand.

In either case, both a product and/or service based business boils down to a few basic concepts; you must have what someone else wants, which fills a need and provides an experience desired by the consumer. You can assure yourself of one thing – there is no reward without some level of risk, so regardless of product or service, all levels of business ventures require a cash investment, an investment of time, and an investment into knowledge of the industry by the business owner.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who author’s articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently is the CEO and President of Extreme Energy Solutions Inc., a green tech company located in Ogdensburg, New Jersey. Samuel K. Burlum lends his expertise as a Consultant and Managing Director of ESLC Inc., a consulting firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in a number of areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration.

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So You want to Own Your Own Business…

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column Published on 01/31/17, a www.SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Source: So you have decided you are tired of working a nine-to-five day job and want to be your own boss. Maybe you are in a position to finally start your own business that you’ve always dreamed of? Possibly, like some folks, you have worked for the family business and now your parents or relatives are retiring and giving you have a chance to continue the family legacy. Whatever the reason, you are ready to begin your new life as a business owner or entrepreneur. So where do you begin? What type of business do you choose to form? We take a look at the options available, and the advantages each type of business provides.

So you want to own your own business. Before you can determine the path in which your entrepreneurship career will be headed, you may want to take a moment to explore all of your options and review some of the hard facts about becoming an entrepreneur in today’s economic and technology climate. There are a number of types of businesses that you can choose from, spanning thousands of product and/or service categories and industries.

The most common business is a sole proprietorship. This type of business is more localized and usually operated by the owner. Most sole proprietorships have anywhere from one to a few employees, sometimes involving family members and relatives as the majority of the staff. In a sole proprietorship, one person is responsible for all of the decisions, operations, sales and marketing, and advertising. The advantage of this kind of business is that the owner is in complete control of what kinds of products and/or services are offered, the hours of operation, who to hire/fire, and the success and/or failure of that said business. In some cases, a sole proprietorship is passed down from generation to generation. Within a sole proprietorship, you will find a single operator, where someone has decided to specialize in one area or craft of expertise, and is for hire on a project-to-project basis. Commonly found examples of a sole proprietorship could be a locally owned barber shop or hair salon, a cafe, deli, or restaurant, an automotive repair shop, a single doctor’s practice, a certified public accountant practice, a single lawyer practice, or local hardware store.

The downside of having a sole proprietorship is that you are responsible for everything. Even if you do not have all of the acquired skill sets in every area of business, you must step up and handle each of these situations. They are part of the operations; no matter the type of product or service being offered. For instance, if you are very good at marketing but not very skilled at bookkeeping, you are still responsible for having the knowledge to be able to do your own accounting. In situations where you might be very good at one area of your business, but lack the skill sets in other areas, you have a few options. A sole proprietor can either enroll in additional educational or training classes and seminars to enhance or acquire new skills, or they can source out specific tasks to other professionals that specialize in areas of skill sets the sole proprietor recognizes they themselves do not have.

Some folks that choose to start their own business, but don’t want to start from scratch, may choose to buy a franchise, keeping it to a specific area of product or service offering. The upside of a franchise is that a sole proprietor usually gets corporate support, branding, marketing, and advertising support, as well as a working model on how the franchise must function. Franchises are in essence a ready-made business. Most franchises require a substantial monetary investment up-front, requiring a sole proprietor to adhere to all of the terms and conditions of the franchise agreement. Limitations to a franchise are that the owner-operator of the franchise location cannot change the corporate model. They have very little or no control over the cost of goods sold, pricing, advertising, store location design and appearance. When owning a franchise, the owner-operator has very limited or little way of adding in their own creative input or creative control into their local business and cannot change the corporate model.

Advantages to a franchise is that most of the difficult guess work is eliminated from the equation as it relates to product development and product offerings, branding and marketing, advertising, product/service pricing, business model, and even employee hiring and training programs. Franchise models have the buying power of media buying and launching national advertising campaigns, aimed at driving potential customers to the door of local stores. Most franchises have major brand recognition, where consumers immediately recognize the product and services offered.

An alternative to a franchise is a cooperative membership model. Co-operative membership business models are popular in the industry segments of grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, auto part stores, and other regional variety stores. Some of the most well recognized co-op brands include Hardware Hank, Ace Hardware, True Value, NAPA Auto Parts, and IGA. The co-operative business model consists of many independently owned stores by individual sole proprietors that pay a fee to use the headlined branding, and also agree to only buy all of their goods from the warehouse that supports that specific brand. For instance, a Hardware Hank hardware store is independently owned, however, has an agreement to purchase the inventory it desires to sell only from the warehouse that supports that brand. In the case of Hardware Hank, they must purchase their inventory from United Hardware.

A co-operative model allows for the independent sole proprietors to have more control over their own stores, with the support of name recognition of a national brand. Part of the fees and costs paid by the store owner to their co-operative provider assist in regional and/or national advertising campaigns, product development and introduction, and supports the central distribution center. In a co-operative business model, the members each have a vote or can cast a suggestion in how to improve the overall co-operative central focus. In essence, every co-op member is an owner in the corporate side of the business. Store owners still have the freedom to market to their local community, while rules and regulations on how to operate their individual store are not as rigid as a franchise.

Maybe you and a friend or a family member both have something equally important to contribute to a business enterprise, and decide it would be advantageous to team up with this person to start a business. This type of business is a partnership. More sophisticated types of partnerships are limited liability partnerships. A partnership can have one or more partners that have agreed to either contribute money, time, property, and/or  labor, singularly or in a combination of any of these areas equally or in part. One of the keys to a successful working partnership is to have a very strong operating agreement in place that is signed by all of the partners, so that each person is aware of how the business should function, how decisions are made, how to resolve a dispute among partners, and how to distribute profits/losses to the members of the business.

Each partnership is different. In some situations, each partner may have an ability to contribute a greater amount of resource than the other partner. Some partnerships have a model that one can mimic, such as the model used for vetting partners in a law firm or doctor’s practice. As the saying also goes, be careful who you choose to partner with. Two people that may have the same passion for the same type of business in the same industry may not always be the best fit. Differences in opinion on how money should be treated, how people should be paid, where a business focuses its growth on, what products and/or services are offered, and even a difference in core values can either keep a partnership working or split it apart. Before you decide to enter a partnership, make sure that both parties have a clear understanding of the rules of engagement, expectations, and commitments.

Some businesses are employee owned. An employee owned business is one where every employee has a stake in the business. This type of business model encourages ownership responsibility throughout every level of job duty, allowing for every employee to feel that their voice and contribution is recognized and heard.  The employee owned company model was designed to elevate the “team” operating model, so that no employee feels that if they choose to slack on the job, their lack of taking responsibility only hurts the company. Within the employee owned structure, every employee and manager are viewed as being on the same team, having equal footing, and managing is just one of the roles that allow for better continuity of the team’s efforts.

On the flip side of an employee owned business, if the business is too small, employees may feel they are entitled to more than the founders or stakeholders that have more financial risk on the table. Employee owned businesses have become popular in the industry segments of grocery stores, variety stores, club stores, car rentals, and other specialty industries. Employees have no upfront cost, and their ownership stake is part of their compensation. Not every employee at an employee owned company is an owner, for it takes time to achieve and earn this status. The better one performs, and the more responsibility to their job an employee assumes with their job, the more stake they can earn. This incentive allows for people in specific roles to take on additional work, knowing that their contribution adds to the overall success of the business enterprise and they will receive a benefit of that.

A corporation is reserved for the career entrepreneur. A sole proprietorship becomes a corporation when the individual’s idea is widely expanded from the local market and offered to a national or worldwide market. The sole proprietorship has outgrown its local market, and now employs a large number of employees, and has a deep infrastructure in place to support larger business enterprise orders. This type of company may also offer multiple products and services to the general consumer, wholesale market, other commercial and industrial businesses and clients.

A corporation may have multiple investors who all have an ownership stake, known as shareholders. A corporation usually has a board of directors, with a company structure that includes executives, management, employees, vendors, suppliers, as well as outside third party professionals and consultants. When it comes to reporting requirements, a corporation has different legal protections and responsibilities than a sole proprietorship does. Tax treatment is also handled differently depending on the type of corporation structure.

There are two types of corporations: “S” corporations and “C” corporations. The major differences between these two types of corporate structures are in the areas of ownership, shareholder rights, and taxation. An “S” corporation can have no more than 100 shareholders, have only one type of share category, and in tax treatment are another form of a pass through. This means that profits and/or loss liabilities are passed to the owners/founders. “C” corporations have the ability to have different stock categories; voting rights can be segmented out differently based a series of financial contribution or management factors, and profits/dividends have two tax treatments. First, the corporation is taxed on gross revenue and profits, then each shareholder is taxed on the dividend they receive from the company as a result of their return on their risk.

A simpler version of a corporation is the Limited Liability Company (LLC). An LLC will allow for a sole proprietor or group of partners many of the same legal protections that can be found associated with a corporation. However, the major differences are tax treatment and ownership structure. LLC’s cannot sell shares, and protections afforded to a LLC can be revoked and the liability forwarded to the owner(s) if the business does not stay within compliance.

It is always better to get an expert opinion from a professional before you decide on the direction of your business structure. Many factors have to be considered before making a final decision, including such as the type of business, what products and services you plan to offer, the audience of consumer you plan to offer your product/service to; how big or small you wish to grow your business, and how much of your finances you will be putting at risk. The SBA offers many resources on their website as does the United States Department of Commerce regarding how to start a business. You can also engage the services of a business consultant to conduct research on your behalf and provide you options that best fit your entrepreneurial vision.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who author’s articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently is the CEO and President of Extreme Energy Solutions Inc., a green tech company located in Ogdensburg, New Jersey. Samuel K. Burlum lends his expertise as a Consultant and Managing Director of ESLC Inc., a consulting firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in a number of areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration.

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Essential Must Have Marketing Tools for Most Small Businesses

Source: Quick to gain a cult consumer following and loyal customer base, most businesses begin to advertise their product and/or service offerings without a plan, which can cause the business to spend valuable dollars in advertising which may not have been the right fit in attracting potential clients from specific targeted audiences.  In order to reach any group of potential customers effectively, every small business needs essential marketing tools that will help them better direct their advertising budgets towards better use while reaching more clients for potential deal acquisition.

A quality marketing plan, which includes an advertising campaign, and an ongoing on-line presence, is the best place for every small business to invest their focus financially. Yet most small business owners say they cannot afford it. I tell them that they cannot afford to be invisible and allow for their competition to gain all the potential customers. A small business can invest tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising and see absolutely no results. The reason for this is that in order to know what types of advertising will best suit your business reach, you need to understand your goals and targets, your ideal clientele, and a defined budget you have available to allocate towards marketing and advertising.

With the plethora of choices, where do you begin? It can be a daunting task and it can be easy to get overwhelmed, however there are some tools that every small business must have to keep them on point and remain actively focused on their goals.

A business needs a quality marketing campaign.  Notice I said, “quality?” There are folks out there that will charge you thousands of dollars on a marketing plan, without taking the time to understand your business. The most complete marketing exercise is where an outside marketing and branding firm takes the time to research your business goals, your personal goals as the business owner, your vision, and your core values. They then take all of this data and compile it into a report that is the foundation for the road map in the most ideal client acquisition for your business. The marketing plan aligns your value proposition product or service with the ideal demographic of potential client within a geographic territory.

In order to stay in front of people, you need a quality advertising plan that properly represents your message to the public. Again, I mention the word “quality.” Any sales representative can give you an ad buy kit with the list of prices for ad space in the newspaper or on radio. However, a quality advertising campaign is going to take into account all of the audience you desire to specifically reach (based on demographics and geographic region), and provide you multiple avenues with which you can gain an audience with these potential clients. Your advertising campaign should be a mix of traditional advertising and online campaigns, with a detail of expected reaches. Advertising results should be measurable so that new client acquisition ratio can be properly assessed. This would look like, “x number of advertising dollars spent = x number of new clients,” and then broken down dollar for dollar with the return on the investment into advertising. Utilizing this plan will allow you to also gauge the most effective advertising medias for your business.

Living in a digital era, you must be able to have an effective website that is mobile friendly. Your website is your business card to the world. As technology continues to evolve, so should your website’s abilities to be searched for and found on multiple types of devices. There are 80% of individuals under the age 40 who use their mobile device for email, internet searches, and financial transactions. If your website is not mobile friendly, then your business will not be seen. Your website should also be able to support video, audio, as well as have multiple placements for a call to action that excites the viewer and engages them into wanting to know more or even make a purchase.

Keep an open mind to alternative forms of payment. Paper money, coins, and debit/credit cards are just a few ways people pay for things today. You need to expand your horizon to be able to accept crypto-currency, electronic wallet payments, and barter. Once you have decided on which platforms of payment your business will accept, you need to include it in your advertising materials. There are folks whom are loyal to one payment preference over another, and you need to let them know you are in a position to service their needs.

Cause marketing must be a part of our overall marketing strategies if you are going to have community brand value. Younger consumers do take notice of businesses that donate to local community causes and charities. They will patron those businesses that offer back something to a non-profit cause, especially when it is a cause that the consumer can identify with. Your plan on giving back should be consistent year to year. A business can build out an event around their contribution to the good cause, which gets noticed by local media.

Have an alliance with a freelance news reporter associated with local media. With the consolidation of newspapers and media outlets across America, most news stories, articles, and press releases do not get published unless someone with press credentials submits it to the reporting news wires. Most newspapers and publications have cut their staff and pluck from the news wires to save money on hiring dedicated reporters as well as the time required for getting content ready for print. Most freelance news reporters, journalists, and/or investigate reporters have credentials to submit content to news wires. When a reporter or journalist submits the content, it is deemed more creditable since the reporter has to vet the facts.

Hard physical marketing takeaways are still relevant, especially when you are marketing your business at a trade show or at a special buying market event.  Business cards are still the number one marketing tool when you are making an introduction to another party for the first time. Many folks fail to carry a business card on their person. Other marketing materials such as brochures, sell sheets, and post card mailers, are take away items that a client will have in their hand as a reminder to consider making a purchase. Letter head and thank you cards are also a must.

Branding your business is more than selecting a clip art logo. There are many generic logo designs to choose from in clip art or online. Today, the attention span of a consumer is less than 15 seconds, and if your logo is not dynamic enough, you will fall into the trap of getting lost in the sauce. Your logo should be the beacon of your brand, the message you wish to share, and explain what it is that you do without a lengthy conversation. You can take the time and make the investment to have the right logo crafted that will last for decades for your business or you can waste time and money on getting a generic logo design. In the end, if you choose the later route, you will also create channel confusion with your customer audience because they may stumble through in the transition from one branding to the next.

Many sales do not generate from social media, however positive social engagement about your product or service is now mandatory in a world where good news is noticed, but bad press moves at lightning speed. Social media business pages should not just be a bull horn for shouting to potential audiences to purchase your goods/services; it should be a platform of education. One where your business provides informative, engaging material and interesting facts to folks about your field of practice that they may not otherwise be aware of. Social media business pages on Facebook, Linked-in, and others are not the place to tell your business’s story, but just provide snippets of information which will peak the potential client’s interest.

A small introductory video about your business is an extra step that assures you someone will take notice of your business. You Tube is the premier platform for hosting video content for marketing your product and/or service, regardless how big or small your company may be.  The best part is that it is a free service for you to use, and the step-by-step upload process, gives your video additional search engine optimization so your video will rank higher in more relevant searches. Over time you can add to your video library content that can be re-purposed and shared in social media campaigns, or videos that can be sent to potential clients as part of your dribble marketing practices. It is suggested the shorter the introductory video the better. This takes some practice in trying to fit in who you are, what your business does, where you are located, what your value proposition is, why you are better than your competitor and what’s in it for the viewer of the video – all in less than 30 seconds.

Search engine ranking has become more and more competitive as the race to capture command over key words and ad word phrases intensifies on the internet. You will need a SEO plan that is phased in over time and that will stay relevant as your business expands in products and/or services offered. This will take careful consideration as you prepare a set of words and phrases that are unique to your business and industry situation, while being relevant to the common consumer. This is so that your business shows up on their radar, preferably on the first or second pages of their internet search.

The more upfront time, resources, and thought you invest into your business’s marketing tools, the more productive your results will be in staying in front of potential clients and while retaining top of the mind awareness with your current clients.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who author’s articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently is the CEO and President of Extreme Energy Solutions Inc., a green tech company located in Ogdensburg, New Jersey. Samuel K. Burlum lends his expertise as a Consultant and Managing Director of ESLC Inc., a consulting firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in a number of areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration.

America’s Endangered Species, The Main Street Business

Source: A trend has been sweeping across the American landscape – the disappearance of small, family owned, individually owned and operated “Main Street Businesses.” Small business is the economic driver of the economy, the known provider for the majority of local jobs and the main consumer of wholesale goods. Here, we will take a look at major factors influencing this trend and some steps which we can adopt to assist in reversing it.

America faces a number of serious issues as it looks to turn around its economy, job growth and infrastructure, while simultaneously tackling a number of social and moral concerns. One of the country’s most valuable assets to economic recovery, local and regional job growth, and the creation of new innovation is the family owned small business. However, in today’s hostile geo-political climate, it is getting far too difficult for a small business to survive. Why is this happening and who’s to blame? It is we who decide with our consumer dollars the fate of the economic health of our local communities. Ultimately we are to blame for this issue that now plagues our community. The responsibility falls on each of us to change our consumer habits and ideals in order to reverse this trend. We vote with our dollars on how our Main Streets will be shaped, and the view today is dismal.

Small businesses face a number of challenges right from inception, which makes one think twice about wanting to own their own business. The amount of local and state regulations that a small business must follow, chews at the working capital and the amount of profit a business will be afforded, even before the business rings the cash register. Instead of embracing small business as a well worthy community asset, civil agencies with police powers have honed in their focus on penalizing businesses for the slightest infractions as a way to increase revenue for local and state government. This occurs where such agencies and governing bodies have lost tax revenue as populations have relocated for lower cost and greener pastures. Our nation needs every small business it gets, yet some penalties in controlled industries could potentially be so severe that a business would never recover the loss and be forced to shutter its doors.

Fees incurred to register a business will take a huge bite out of any initial investment. Obtaining building permits for construction and the cost of numerous inspections which often include high-salaried professionals are needed to maneuver through the complicated rules of local and state planning and zoning laws. Oftentimes, these necessary evils are overlooked when creating a new business investment budget by folks planning to start a brick and mortar business location. Overruns in legal fees can jump to tens of thousands of dollars if a business chooses to locate in a town that desires to not foster a business community. Yearly inspections, updates to state statutes and local ordinances, and ever changing regulations force small businesses to retain legal counsel on a regular basis.

Employee-employer relations are one of the largest risks with liability for a small business. The local store owner must spend valuable time in training staff – usually training the new hire themselves. They must hire folks at a pay scale that will be advantageous to the business’s economic health and within the allowance of that business’s available cash flow. Local businesses are limited to the initial talent they can hire based on the available dollars within that business dedicated to payroll. Small businesses also struggle to retain talent when long term staff looks to earn more money or desire more perks beyond the paycheck.

One of the costliest benefits for a small business to provide is health care. Most small businesses only hire part time employees because they cannot afford to offer additional benefits to full time staffers.  In the profession of business consulting, I have observed a number of clients; ones who owned small businesses. They lost key employees to competitors because they could not afford to offer more financial compensation and/or benefits to their employees.

Small businesses also face an unfair disadvantage of limited economic buying power. Most small businesses are limited on the amount of cash they can dedicate toward inventory. Those that are dependent on product based cash flow, such as a local variety store or hardware store, only have so many dollars available to spend on purchasing inventory. These businesses are limited in where they can store said inventory. Small businesses are not purchasing large volumes of goods to resell relative to say a chain store that may be able to purchase a specific product for a number of stores. The result is that they do not get the same volume breaks as a big box retailer. This factor will have an effect on the overall price a small business can retail a product for to its customers.

Small business owners face a very burdensome and complicated tax code which impacts the business’s ability to expand and grow. Many of America’s small family owned Main Street businesses are either sole proprietorship, limited liability company (LLC) or an S-Corporation. All of these business structures are pass-through companies, meaning that the profits and or losses of the business, as well as all taxes due (including payroll and sales tax) are ultimately the responsibility of the business owner. In the event the owner’s business does very well, the additional net profits are then reflected on the personal taxes of the business owner. In a household where the business owner’s spouse might also work and is successful financially in their career, it automatically pushes both earners into a higher tax bracket. Thus, the business owner must pay more taxes; money the business owner may have set aside toward either hiring more help or expanding the business’s product or service offerings. Most small business owners do not have the resources to hire a team of professionals to help limit tax liabilities; nor do they have the buying power of a major corporation with which to negotiate such things as payroll taxes and/or property tax incentives.

Local family owned businesses individually do not have the lobbying power to influence local legislation. Many are required to pay for memberships to trade organizations and/or business advocacy groups that will fight on their behalf on issues that affect the business’s ability to operate. Most large corporations have consultants standing by which are employed to lobby full time for legislation that benefits the corporation’s business model while also placing additional restrictions or regulatory burdens on small business.

As consumers, we have not made it easier for a small business to thrive. Much of their survival and success are dependent on the relationships created within the local community it calls home. A small business will usually support local causes and events important to the local demographic/geographic area in hopes to maintain positive relationships with potential customers. Because small businesses don’t have the buying power of a big box retailer, the prices for goods or services will be slightly higher than the larger chain retailer.

Understandably, consumers have put aside the importance of having a healthy relationship with the local store owner in order to save a few bucks on products or services needed. Getting the most for our money on groceries seems like a responsible act.  Yet as consumers we fail to realize the long term effect these decisions have on those seeking to earn an income in our own neighborhood. We have come to expect the bigger, better deal for less, without thinking about the consequences our buying decisions may have when we choose not to purchase our needs locally. This frame of mind for the consumer will ultimately create an economic ripple that will reach right back into their own homes.

In making a decision to purchase products “locally” I do mean from an independently owned family owned and operated business. A big box retailer located minutes from your home is not considered buying local. When we purchase goods and services from a local family owned business, that business usually will keep its revenue within the community, instead of sending profits to some large corporate entity located elsewhere.

The local small business generally provides a balance of choice in products and brands for consumers. Regional product brands get their start by offering new innovation via the local merchant. You will find in many locally owned groceries, is that they will feature local brands and products manufactured locally; brands and products you may not find at large chain retailers. By supporting locally owned businesses, we are also choosing to support local suppliers. Even the quality of the goods that a small business offers is oftentimes much better than the quality of products found at chain discount stores.

Our choice to pay a few cents more for something at a local retailer makes all the difference in how we shape our local Main Street business community. We have to make a vote with our wallets to support local businesses before they all disappear, leaving us with chain store retailers. Many of these local businesses may be operated by a neighbor, friend, or family member.  As Main Streets become a ghostly sight across America, know that your spending habits were the vote that decided if your local business would exist or become one of the extinct species that helped build the America we now live in.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who author’s articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently is the CEO and President of Extreme Energy Solutions Inc., a green tech company located in Ogdensburg, New Jersey. Samuel K. Burlum lends his expertise as a Consultant and Managing Director of ESLC Inc., a consulting firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in a number of areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration.

Branding the Right Message About Your Business

Source: A company’s brand is more than just a logo or graphic; it is the internal and external message that a business represents to its employees, investors, clients, and to the surrounding community, one which best describes what that business does, why it exists, as well as what the business and its’ leadership believes in. What does your brand say about your company? What should be considered when branding your business? We report…..

So you just founded your venture. It could be a local, small, family owned Main Street business or a large endeavor with hopes to expand globally, creating a far reaching effect. Regardless of the size of your business, the message you choose to send to the street is paramount in explaining what type of business you have, the purpose your business serves, the product or service it offers, as well as the demographic populace and geographic locale in which you offer your value creation.

The next step most folks do, is to set out getting a logo or graphic created so they have an image to place on their business card. Then, when they pitch their business, there is a visual reminder for others about their company. Initially, this can be a costly mistake for many business owners. As we continue on in the article, it is further explained how understanding the entire meaning behind “branding” a company – including the completion of a branding exercise, is crucial for that company’s foundational success. This is because as a business out grows their initial logo or changes its product/service offering mix, the logo becomes obsolete.

Branding is more than just a logo or a font. It is the representation of all the internal and external factors about the company, translated into a set of graphics and text that tell the “elevator pitch” about the company; reminding people about all the dimensions of that business. Branding exercises and creation by a full-service marketing and advertising firm can cost thousands of dollars, but the investment in the long run will save tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars in having to re-brand a business owner’s company later and/or lost business due to the wrong message sent about the company to potential customers.

There are many factors that should be taken into consideration when learning how to properly brand one’s company. As founders of a business or an entrepreneurial enterprise, sometimes personal preferences get in the way of selecting company logo or graphic color schemes. Instead, it should be the story that tells the “why” behind the business that should be the deciding factor of the imagery and content selected for sharing a company’s message with the public. Just because the entrepreneur thinks it’s a cool look, does not mean that the general public will understand the logo or even be able to identify with its significance. That is why much thought, attention, and detail must be taken when deciding the final translation of a company brand.

The message you send to potential audiences about your company needs to be with a definite purpose in mind. It should summarize in brief the products and services being provided, and why the products and services should be deemed noteworthy by potential customers. Behind every business is a leader, or a group of leaders that are the drivers of that business, and the “why” they embrace, should be reflected throughout the context of the brand. Your brand should also have consistency throughout the entire purpose, or scope, of the company. Nothing is more confusing to a potential customer than picking some logo or tag saying that fails to reflect all of the company’s products/services.

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When branding a company, consider internal factors just the same as the external message desired to be shared with clients. Internal branding is a reflection of a company’s internal core values, of which include a code of ethics, morals and beliefs, how the company should be organized, and the disciplines within the company an owner desires their staff to adopt. Internal branding should examine any message the employees need to understand. Using words such as “the company,” or “this business” versus, “the team,” and “our associates,” creates very distinct feels. A business owner should want to create a work experience where their employees realize how they are a part of a greater cause, and that their contributions are part of the greater success of the company; not one that fosters a culture of “cut throat – every person for themselves,” job environment.

Words and phrases such as previously mentioned, are located in a company employee handbook, on the company website, or on social media. How social media marketing is utilized will reflect the internal culture of any company.  Language selection is extremely important. It is so powerful and can either be very inviting and attractive to the right individuals a company wishes to employ, or it can be a total turn off for some; alienating many of the best talent that may otherwise have been recruited. Oftentimes, businesses focus on the external message they desire to purport without considering long term branding strategies for expanding their business, which would include recruiting talent to assist with such growth.

It is important to understand that an external message is more than just a sales pitch. The most valuable brands in the world don’t sell products, but the brand itself, for it has been said, “People don’t by products, they buy brands.” That means that a company’s brand must contain more information than just the products and/or services being sold. Within the external brand, its’ symbolism (which is the logo, color scheme, and anything visual) as well as the content (tag lines, by-lines, copy in ads, and anything auditory) should say what the business believes in, stands for, product/service offered, and the audience it serves; without saying it. That may sound confusing, but this is the most complicated consideration when choosing all the moving parts in successfully branding a business to the public.

Most marketing and advertising firms will usually begin the branding journey with a series of discovery sessions, in order to gain a better understanding of who the founders/leadership of the business are.  Part of the exercise is finding out the “why” behind the decision to go into business in the first place, or what the purpose is that has driven someone to take their invention or creation to the next level. Personality and core values are taken in consideration when trying to include a story being portrayed to the public. This is part of the “why” the potential customer should purchase a company’s product or service. Next, the branding expert will want information regarding all of the moving parts of an owner’s business. This will include a company’s current status, as well as what the company is expected to look like in five, ten, and even twenty-five years from now. The bigger picture is reflected as part of the brand.

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Branding experts will take a deep look at which target audience is the right fit for a company’s product or service. They will research the demographic and geographic of every target potential client, and align them with what you have to offer. To many business owner’s and entrepreneur’s surprise, the target market they intended to sell to, may not be the right or best fit, after the branding research demonstrates larger opportunities not originally considered. Maybe a product or service is better suited for sales opportunities overseas where there is a greater need for a company’s invention. It is also possible that research may show an initial targeted audience may be lesser in volume of numbers than originally considered, but may be willing to pay more per individual sale for the item planning to be marketed. The branding exercises reveal so many options and truths about a business an owner may have not even realized.

Branding experts add value to a company because their train of thought is objective and concise. They examine a business, its’ products and services, as well as the owner’s positioning without judgement or bias. Branding experts are not working on behalf of any client nor are they working on the owner’s behalf (as in the founder, whom usually has an emotional tie to their value creation and company). These experts take a pragmatic approach to review all aspects of a business, utilizing part logic, part statistics and research, and part understanding on how the company’s potential audience should respond to the brand that ultimately translates the business’s message. They do this in a systematic series of questions and exercises. The more detail and time that is spent on the initial branding exercises, the more precise the branding expert will be in coining the logo, tag line, and content about the business.

A branding expert should be a company’s marketing department’s best friend, one that remains available throughout all of the phases of a company’s growth. Having the ability to work with one branding expert will assist you in the expediency to re-brand your company, for the initial branding expert already knows your back story and has monitored your growth. A changing message, product/service line expansion or the retelling of a story are all taken into consideration. The expert can eventually envision the business’s journey much the same as the company’s leadership, which will allow for consistent brand continuity throughout the entire company’s life cycle.

It would be foolish to think that small local businesses only need is a logo. Investing in appropriately telling the company’s story to the public will have a direct result on whether or not the public will have reason to develop a belief as to why they should patron from a particular business. Today, it is critical that small local businesses invest into proper branding just as much as a major corporation if it is to outlast the competition, as well as remain intriguing enough to the average consumer considering to give your business a try. A company’s brand should be strong enough that it reflects all of its’ internal and external messages while providing a need to be part of the cult following the brand a company represents.

A brand should carry a sense of value and integrity. Consumers don’t trust products or sales people; they trust brands – brands that follow through on their word even when everything is not perfect. The most profitable of companies in the world understand that their brand is more than a brand; it’s a culture and practice that consumers have come to trust in; making good on its promises even when it made a mistake. This takes patience, for great brands are built over time. Branding is an investment in one’s self, their company, their value creation, their value proposition, and the statement desired to make in the marketplace. The right brand will last a life time, while others will fade away. So brand wisely.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who author’s articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently is the CEO and President of Extreme Energy Solutions Inc., a green tech company located in Ogdensburg, New Jersey. Samuel K. Burlum lends his expertise as a Consultant and Managing Director of ESLC Inc., a consulting firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in a number of areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration.

Homeless and Displaced Veterans; America’s Hidden Pandemic

Source: As a Nation, our society faces many insurmountable challenges; however one of our most pressing issues that affect the quality of life in communities is the rapid rise in Veteran displacement and homelessness. Sam Burlum examines what is at the core of this issue and the available resources in solving this matter.

The statistics are alarming; beyond alarming. It’s as if the alarm has been signaling to our great nation, yet many of us decided to turn the radio up, similar to when we hear that irritating noise our car may make when it needs a repair, however at that time it is easier to ignore it than be inconvenienced by taking time out to solve the problem. Veteran homelessness is rising at an unprecedented rate. Even with the number of non-profit organizations that outreach to homeless veterans aimed at getting Veterans off the street and into a home and/or back to work, the amount of homeless Veterans outpace the investment of time it takes to reach a Veteran and get their situation resolved.

The National Alliance for Homelessness published their report in 2014, in which they sampled homeless populations in which were reported across the nation, whereas one January 2013 night, over 610,042 individuals experienced homelessness. Veterans accounted for about 10% of this total figure, or around 60,000 Veterans were accounted for as reported to be homeless. Currently there are just less than four-hundred thousand retired military personnel, who include former enlisted personnel, officers, and related staff, whom received military retiree benefits. Also included in this demographic, are disabled Veterans, and Veterans whom suffer from mental illness. That means over 15% of this population are homeless. Like I mentioned, that is only those that have reported to be homeless.

There are a number of homeless Veterans whom either go unnoticed or refuse to reach out for help for a number of reasons. The largest contributor to why most non-reporting homeless Veterans refuse or hide from help relates to mental health. The largest mental health issue that diminishes this demographics’ ability to function in society, able to integrate back into civilian life, is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, also known as PTSD. The number of Veterans affected by PTSD depends on the era they served, as indicated by the US Department of Defense.

Over twenty percent of Veterans (about 500,000) whom served during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom have experienced PTSD. This has increased from the Gulf War, where only twelve percent of the military (about 84,000 Veterans) served had PTSD. As it relates those military personnel whom served in Vietnam, a more recent study demonstrated over 30 percent of returning Veterans (about 770,000) had admitted and/or were diagnosed with PTSD. Prior to Vietnam, very few statistics were kept on this subject matter.  The numbers of homeless Veterans that stem from the demographic of those that served in Vietnam and those that served during Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom are so parallel in spite of gap between the ages of generations that served.

So what is the cause of PTSD? And how do we solve this Pandemic issue that is in every corner of the United States? PTSD is also known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event; either experiencing it or witnessing it, according to the Mayo Clinic. However Jack Clark, Founder of Save A Warrior has a different view.

“PTSD is not a condition of the mind or a mental health issue. What we have found, is PTSD is a condition that the inner heart and emotional state must be healed of the wounds and stresses of battle that impact so many whom hide their emotions from family, friends, and fellow colleagues in fear of being mocked,” added Clark.

“We focus on bringing peace to heart and then mind, so our Cohorts can now come to terms with the things they had to deal with as a part of battle, first touching upon the inner peace of themselves, learning to forgive themselves, then others. Save A Warrior has had a 100% success rate without having to use the normal aids of prescription drugs,” Continued Clark during an interview with Sam Burlum a few years ago at the SAW Facility, Malibu California.

“Veterans are either too scared or are too embarrassed to ask for help, and so we need to reach out to the community and their families to bring them out of hiding and into the light so we can offer them all the assistance that we have available,” provided Sandy Mitchell, founder of Project Help, a 501c3 non-profit that delivers on a number of Veteran assistant services including clothing drives, fundraisers, and lending a hand to other causes where proceeds directly benefit Veterans in need.

Veterans have disclosed to this investigate reporter that it has taken them years to get help from the VA. The VA as Veterans know it as, is the US Department of Veteran Affairs. “Gerry” as provided this name. he did not want to reveal his complete name for this interview, was a Veteran whom served late in the Vietnam Campaign, and continued to serve in the Military until the mid-1980’s.

“It took me years just to get someone at the VA to give me an answer on how I can access my benefits. When I finally did get access, I waited for what felt like forever to get medical assistance for aliments I had related to my service in the field,” shared Gerry, “I see in regular hospital, illegal immigrants whom don’t speak a word of English get better care than I whom served this country.”

“I can’t believe after eight years of service in the Navy, it took the Administration another two to four years to just get my application in front of an advocate and case worker. If I were a criminal, I would have had service afforded to me right away,” added Matthew B., from New Jersey, a Veteran of the Navy whom served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. “It’s no reason why this system has to be so complicated.  When you complain about it, it seems then magically your application gets lost or you go to the back of the line. Who wants to sign up to serve in the military if we are treated like second class citizens,” questioned Matthew.

The VA has defended its position, in saying, “There is a process in which each Veteran’s needs must follow a protocol in order for the need to be addressed, and we have limited resources available,” when called the VA Hospital in East Orange, New Jersey, as the receptionist refused to provide her name.

According to US Department of Veteran Affairs, the 2017 Budget for the VA is over $182.3 billion dollars, a far cry from poverty, in which homeless Veterans experience. So with so many dollars dedicated to the VA, one would have to ask the question, “why are so many Veteran’s homeless and/or displaced?”

It seems like when our nation needs to focus on solving these pandemic and systemic issues, we have turned a blind eye and worries more about what how a professional football player decides to make a political statement. It is civic our duty to hold our political leaders to a vow of assisting our nation’s veterans.

Without a doubt, men and women whom put their lives on the line to fight and defend the freedoms and civil liberties afforded to us under the US Constitution, deserve better.  Each of us, whom did not serve in battle or in uniform, should take notice to this rising tide. It is our duty and our privilege to serve those whom fought on our behalf. We have a responsibility to do so. What message are we sending to young men and women that would have considered joining the military, when we cannot care for those properly that return home from the battlefield. That is the battle on the homeland that now matters the most.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who author’s articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently is the CEO and President of Extreme Energy Solutions Inc., a green tech company located in Ogdensburg, New Jersey. Samuel K. Burlum lends his expertise as a Consultant and Managing Director of ESLC Inc., a consulting firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in a number of areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration.