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Interview with New England Veterans Chamber of Commerce’s Lisa Ducharme

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I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Ducharme, Executive Director of the New England Veterans Chamber of Commerce. She comes from a family line with over 200 years of military service in all branches of the military.  She is a 20-year Air Force veteran, daughter of a retired Air Force Veteran and mother of an Army retired soldier.   Ms. Ducharme has an in-depth understanding of veteran benefits, and experience as a business owner, she has been a partner with Veterans Outreach Into Community Engagement (VOICE) for over 5-years, where she participates in military outreach opportunities connecting military, veterans and their families to resources.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?  When I retired from the Air Force in December 2006 I struggled to find a job, when I found a job that I enjoyed, after 5 years, in 2014, I was laid off.  I decided I needed a change, and went back to school to get a certification in 3D Animation and Interactive Media, which led me to start a business.  In starting my own business, I made all the mistakes you could make and didn’t really understand what assistance or resources were available.  When my business wasn’t going anywhere and I couldn’t make it work, that is when I started looking for assistance, and I applied for and was accepted into the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities at UConn.  I learned so much from that program and about other resources available to businesses and veterans.  When I was given the opportunity to establish the New England Veterans Chamber of Commerce (NEVCC) to connect and help veteran, military and family member businesses under the United States Veterans Chamber of Commerce it was an opportunity I could not pass up. 

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?  I was planning our kick-off for the NEVCC, which was scheduled for 11/11/2018 at 11:01 a.m., the reason for this date/time is because this year is the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I.  The launch was our tribute to those who served and sacrificed, “A Century of veteran businesses in the making.”, as our veterans past, helped our veterans present and we want to help our veterans in the future.  As we were figuring out how best to make this tribute, the World War I Centennial Commission launched the “Bells of Peace” and asked Americans across the U.S. to ring a bell at 11:00 on 11/11/2018 in honor of those who served and sacrificed. 

We wanted to add bells to our kick-off, so after searching where to get the commemorative bells, we found the perfect place, Bevin Bells in CT.  It turned out that Bevin Bells is not only a 6th Generation family run business, but the current owner is a veteran. 

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?  The NEVCC will be the hub of veteran entrepreneurship, and provide New England veteran, military, and family member businesses with the education, tools, resources and network connections necessary to launch and/or run successful businesses. We connect veteran, military, and family-owned businesses in New England through advocacy and professional and community networking. We do this by facilitating workshops and trainings with organizations and individuals that are experts in their field, such as Quabbin Mediation, VETRN Streetwise MBA, SCORE, Small Business Administration, and Veteran Business Outreach Centers.

Early on as we were establishing the NEVCC we connected with Leroy Ashwood, owner of BRAVE for Veterans, whose business is successful, and is working on starting another business, as well as working on a variety of veteran issues.  We have been able to collaborate with Leroy and also connect him to resources and provided him information that will assist him.   

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?  Use resources that are available, you are never alone!  It is never too late to make sure your personal credit is in good shape, if you don’t know how to start, reach out to the American Consumer Credit Counseling services, they are there to assist.  The stress of personal finances can be a big drain on business owners.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?  I so agree, everyone has a mentor who helped them get where they are.  In my case, my mentor is a friend and she has been my “business buddy” since 2013.  Anita Eliason, has owned her own business and now works as a Senior Business Advisor with the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center (MSBDC). 

The most important thing about your “business buddy” is they need to be supportive and honest.   Anita has always been supportive and honest.  When I started my business in 2013, I had picked a business name that I thought worked, LLR2000 and Anita, said how does LLR2000 equate to your business?  As I explained what it stood for and we continued to talk, the reality set in, if it takes this much to explain it to Anita, who fully understands my business, it was clear my business name did not fit my business.  After some brain storming and looking online, we came up with Your Visual Alternatives.  When I was thinking about establishing the New England Veterans Chamber of Commerce, Anita and I brainstormed what that would look like and what kind of resources would be needed, and she was the first person added to the Advisory board.  The military has “battle buddies”, Anita is always going to be my “business buddy”.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life? For over 20 years the quote I have relied on is by Abraham Lincoln, “I do the very best I know how—the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”  When it comes to business, I have many quotes that inspire me, one of my favorites is “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” — Colin Powell

We are only human, which can be a positive and a negative.  When I do the best I can and it is not good enough, is it a failure?  It is only a failure, if I do not learn from it.  Over my lifetime and throughout my time as a business owner, I will always do the very best I can, and will prepare and work hard.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Use resources – When I started my business, I did everything by myself, didn’t use resources and went online and downloaded other people’s business plans.  It was the wrong way to do it. 
  2. Get a SCORE mentor – SCORE is available to anyone to use https://www.score.org/SCORE, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship.”  I didn’t get a SCORE mentor (or have a business plan) until 2 years after my business was started.
  3. Work with the Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) – “SBDC’s provide assistance to small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs throughout the United States and its territories. SBDCs help entrepreneurs realize the dream of business ownership and help existing businesses remain competitive in a complex, ever-changing global marketplace. SBDCs are hosted by leading universities and state economic development agencies, and funded in part through a partnership with SBA.”  https://www.sba.gov/tools/local-assistance/sbdc
  4. Ensure you have a Business Plan – Although business plans can be very difficult, you should always have one.  You do not have to do it by yourself, SCORE mentors can provide you tools and assist you through the process.  https://www.sba.gov/tools/local-assistance/sbdc
  5. Learn Social Media – Social media is not for all businesses, but it is for most.  Social Media includes blogs, LinkedIn, YouTube, and a wide variety of other social media formats.  The reality is, in today’s world how are you going to be found in this noisy world without Social media?

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement  that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂  My movement is “Buy Veteran New England”.   Our Veteran and Military members serve 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  There were many times that they work through holidays and weekends. Many times, they get deployed or need to leave their families to go to training or to help others.  Our family members serve as well, they need to adapt to all kinds of situations, and the children who move need to continually adjust.  Here in the New England States, which include: CT, MA, ME, NH, VT, and RI, we want to run a “Buy Veteran New England” campaign and encourage businesses and consumers to purchase from veteran, military and family member businesses.

How can our readers follow you on social media?  We are on twitter, and Facebook:  @NEVCC2018 and can be found on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/company/new-england-veterans-chamber-of-commerce/.  Our website is www.NEVCC.org

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Anthony Delgado (born February 6, 1986) is an American software developer and internet entrepreneur widely known as a professional hacker in the developer community. Anthony Delgado has won numerous hackathons sponsored by Fortune 500 tech companies like Google, IBM, Intel, Facebook and Microsoft and hosted by organizations including Rutgers University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the AT&T Developer Summit in New York City.

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Interviews

How Carlos Redlich Went From Food Stamps to 6 Figures in 6 Months

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While a good number of entrepreneurs start their businesses with a few thousand dollars, Carlos Redlich did not. The man had nothing to his name and was almost begging for food at the time when the magical light bulb moment arrived. Like the 80 percent of businesses that fail during the initial stages, Redlich’s first efforts to rise out of the ashes with a martial arts school evaporated. There, however, was enough determination and zeal in the man to bring out the struggle that bred the success he enjoys today. I sat down with him to listen to his story and what I found out will most assuredly inspire you. Here’s why.

At One Point He was Paying $10,000 in Rent with Absolutely No Growth

Redlich’s introduction into the business world was quite an event to go by.  His journey began when he was just 25 years of age. At the time, he was running a martial arts school but without much to show for it other than a handful of clients and some formidable fighting skills. Expenses were on an all-time high as the premise cost them $10,000 a month in rent. It was not until him and his girlfriend discovered the book “The Four Hour Work Week” that everything started to change.

At first, Redlich’s outlook on the business started to change as he developed a profound interest in online businesses. What drove him was the desire to make as much money in the least amount of time possible so that he could match up with the entrepreneurs he was now beginning to learn from. Redlich recounts how his instructor introduced him into the world of copywriting and how he has since made a meaningful life out of it. Slowly, he found his way into copywriting and has from then built renowned resources on the subject like The Copywriting Domination Method where he shows other people how to replicate the process also. 

Making 100 Cold Calls to Get 4 Clients

Having never been into the online industry, Redlich did not have any idea of how to go about promoting his business. So he resulted in cold calling. In our interview, Redlich recalls how he used to make almost 100 cold calls a day to get four clients to sign a contract with him. Then he decided to change from making calls to writing emails. Out of the almost 150 first emails he sent out, six people called back and signed up for business. 

Getting six responses from 150 emails might sound ridiculous, but to Redlich, it was the direct opposite. He felt a bolt of excitement rush through him and gained just the right motivation he needed to push not only harder, but smarter. Ever since that first day, Redlich has been on an ever-rising growth curve. Within one year in the copywriting business, Redlich scaled his company to six figures.

Resisting the Urge to Give Up

No one has to be a genius to know that giving up in pursuit of dreams and goals is the single most significant impediment to success. Redlich knows this too well. He has had to resist the urge to give up more times than he can remember. There were days when he could not afford food and water for his girlfriend and himself. So he resulted to stealing water from their neighbor’s tap to at least have enough to drink, shower, and flush the toilet. 

At the time, Redlich was still at the martial arts school but not getting enough to pay his bills. To him, nothing was more discouraging than seeing his friends working and earning five-figure salaries every year, while he had to put up with a few hundred dollars he got as profit every month. Business at the gym was so bad that his business partner threw him out just days to Christmas. However, Redlich always found a reason not to give up. There was a fire still burning in him. He knew that somewhere along with the struggle, there had to be something he would do to break through the barriers. 

Breaking Through the First $10,000

While Redlich was always dreaming of the big deals that would bring in the big bucks, he was not quite ready for that. At least that is what he realized when his first big client in the copywriting business came along. After doing some emails for a client for just $60, the client flew to Miami to meet Redlich to sign a long term contract. On the way to meeting his client, Redlich knew their business meeting would either turn right or wrong, and the latter was more expected. 

Sitting down with his potential client with no special sales skills, Redlich couldn’t help but wonder how it would turn out. Then the big question came, “How much?” Without giving much thought to it, Redlich blurted out, “10,000 dollars a month.” It came as a surprise to him when his client smiled, reached out his hand, and said, “Deal, ten grand it is!” You can almost tell what ran through Redlich’s mind as he shook his first-ever client’s hand in disbelief. In our interview, Redlich said to me, “At that moment of shock, everything went blank. I then wondered why I hadn’t asked for 15,000 or 20,000, but I was glad anyhow, as I had never imagined closing a prospect for that much.”

You have undoubtedly read about success stories of how entrepreneurs rose from the ground up. However, Carlos Redlich’s story is unique in its way. I listened to Redlich as he said, “I was broke as a joke,” and I realized that I couldn’t exactly tell what he meant because he is now a different person. You can make that change too.

 

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What It Takes to Build a Business from $20 to $40 Million; The Case of Snow with Josh Elizetxe

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There is nothing quite like an entrepreneur’s determination when starting a business. That’s my original quote by the way (pun intended). Just the other day, I was scanning through some of my favorite Forbes articles and came across this particular one by Neil Patel. In his presentation, Patel observes that of all startups, only 10 percent survive. The article was published three years ago just when Josh was investing his first $20 into what is now a business worth more than $40 Million.

Looking back at Elizetxe’s journey, all I can say is that it takes more than just determination to build a business up from its infant days to sustaining it when it grows into a giant. In their article, The Top 20 Reasons Startups Fail, CB Insights found the top three reasons to be; not the right team (23%), ran out of cash (29%), and no market need (42%). While these reasons are valid, you’ve got to ask yourself some questions. What if you don’t have a team? What if you only have $20 to begin with or nothing at all? What if the market you are venturing into is totally concentrated by oligopolistic giants? 

These are just some of the questions Elizetxe asked himself when he was laying down the initial plans for what is now Snow Teeth Whitening. At the time, there was as much free and paid advice on how to grow a business as there is now. What Elizetxe didn’t know, which is what I am telling you now, is that very few people will let you in on what exactly they had to do to get to where they are. The difference between Elizetxe and them, however, is that Elizetxe will tell you exactly what he has done and how he built Snow from just $20 to $40 Million. 

Take Advantage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

When Professor Klaus Schwab first coined the term Fourth Industrial Revolution, this is what he said of the opportunity presented to entrepreneurs by Industry 4.0 “The changes are so profound that, from the perspective of human history, there has never been a time of greater promise or potential peril. My concern, however, is that decision-makers are too often caught in traditional, linear (and non-disruptive) thinking or too absorbed by immediate concerns to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future.” 

I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Schwab. That is why at Snow, Elizetxe knew that leveraging on the opportunity created by the technology of the connected devices would give Snow the leap needed not only to stay in business but also to compete with giants like Colgate. By launching their new teeth whitening system that has Bluetooth technology, a wireless mouthpiece, auto-shade detection, red light gum therapy, and much more, they were able to create a product that is in line with the technology that people want to be part of. 

Writing about lining up businesses with the Fourth Industrial Revolution on Forbes, Sean Hinton says, “One of the most immediate and impactful outcomes of technological evolution is the vast advancement in automation. Every day, more manual processes become automated, and as technology continues to accelerate, so will automation.” 

In whatever business you are in, there sure is an opportunity to slip in some form of automation. The best way to beat monopolistic and oligopolistic giants is not by grinding hard to outdo the competition. The trick, however, is in doing what they do differently and in a much better way. 

Disrupt the Common Market

No matter how much you consider your niche overcrowded, there has got to be somewhere for you in there. That is exactly what they did with Snow. Instead of concentrating on the general assumption that your industry is overcrowded, you must decide to create your own blue ocean within a vast and almost unsurvivable red ocean.

First, have a unique twist to your product or service. Second, employ a different and effective marketing strategy. To give you a practical example, Snow introduced a teeth whitening system with Bluetooth technology, a wireless mouthpiece, auto-shade detection, red light gum therapy, and much more. Snow then embarked on a journey to first serve celebrities with their ingenious product lineup. They knew that most people, including you, will listen to what important people say and take action. By getting a few popular people satisfied with our product, all we had to do is sit back and have them endorse Snow. 

Know the Right People and Get the Right People to Know You

If you didn’t know that who you know is as important as what you know, now you know. The fact that Elizetxe is an entrepreneur doesn’t mean that he had to come all the way by himself. From the very start, Elizetxe had mentors, peers, contacts, confidants, family, and friends. Borrowing from the fact that Elizetxe started out with just $20 clearly communicates that these people were not there to fund my initiative. Instead, they offered insights when Josh had to make tough decisions and support when everything seemed not to work out. However, before you can know the right people, you have to meet them, which brings us to the next point. Knowing the right people begins with meeting them the right way. Do not expect to meet the most instrumental business advisor on a late-night chat in your favorite social media platform. Take Elizetxe for instance. He has had to get on a plane just to have a 30-minute meeting with the right person to give his product an endorsement. That kind of sacrifice is actually backed by science. Here is proof that it works. In a study conducted by Great Business Schools, 95 percent of the people said that face-to-face meetings are essential for long term business relationships. Another important observation from the study was a general conclusion was that “people who got most results from their networking efforts participate more in ‘face-to-face’ casual contact networks.”  

Building a business from scratch is indeed an uphill task. However, the success that comes in the end is worth every bit of the struggle involved. Even if you do not have enough money to pull through, you can employ the insights I have shared in this article to reach unimaginable heights. Remember, to live the reality of your dreams, you have to wake up first.

 

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Meet Elsy Guevara the 22-Year-Old Disrupting The Fashion Industry

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At the age of 22, Elsy Guevara has managed to disrupt the fashion industry by turning a hobby into a successful business. When Elsy was just 17 years old, unlike most teenagers her age, she started to brainstorm ways she could use social media and her love for fashion to launch an online business. As a hobby, she and her sisters, Beatriz Guevara, Jennifer Guevara, and Patricia Guevara, started creating and posting fashion layouts and taking full-body outfit pictures for social media. The fashion posts became so popular that it captured the attention of a very successful fashion brand, Fashion Nova. The company directly messaged Elsy and asked her if she could create content for them, which eventually lead to a full-time job in the company. While working at Fashion Nova, Elsy and her sisters worked on building their fashion brand, OOTDFash. OOTDFash began with one rack of clothing in their mother’s bedroom where the sisters would find places in their small apartment to take outfit pictures and promote the few styles they were selling. Fortunately, the outfit and fashion content were getting recognition on social media, which resulted in an unexpected sales growth for Elsy and her sisters. Although the business is continually growing and now considered quite successful, there were many challenges and obstacles that Elsy and her sisters had to face and learn to overcome.

Almost Quitting but Finding a Reason to Move On

Not only did the increase in social media following and incoming sales encouraged Elsy and her sisters to continue, but these small successes over time also discouraged them. With growing social media popularity also came constant criticism and negativity. Every new fashion post was followed by mostly positive comments, but critical commentators always made their presence known. Commentators compared the growing business to other competitors, and Elsy found that it fueled the tensions between the more experienced competition and OOTDFash. Launching a business with no experience was sometimes discouraging for the sisters because there were moments they felt lost and had to find the right ways to manage and run the business with their research. Going up against businesses with years of experience before them and assistance was a challenging mental battle that was fought daily, especially when social media always reminded them of who they were up against. Being constantly critiqued and compared was upsetting to Elsy because there was still that strong human nature desire to satisfy everyone. Although it was very discouraging to read some of the negative opinions, overtime the sisters started to understand that the negative comments were not a real reflection of their work and self.

While criticism was constantly testing Elsy’s patience, there were even tougher lessons Elsy learned the hard way. It was always in Elsy’s nature to immediately see the good in someone and gain people’s trust quickly. When meeting new people, intentions were never questioned, but unfortunately, she learned the hard way that not everyone walks into the business with the mindset to help. Welcoming the wrong people into the family business has lead to company money and ideas being stolen, but over the last couple of years, Elsy and her sisters have managed to look past their losses and learn from the experiences. They have accepted that they will always face setbacks as business owners and with these failures and negative experiences, come valuable lessons and personal growth.

Standing out from the Rest

In the fashion industry, there is and will always be competition. Standing out and setting the business apart from the rest is a challenge that never seems to go away due to the fast-changing industry the business is in. Creating styles that not only make the person feel amazing and comfortable but also believing in one’s fashion sense is how Elsy and her sister found themselves setting themselves apart from competition. Although OOTDFash is growing and gaining popularity, Elsy felt like she could use the lessons and experiences learned from starting a business with zero experience to help other young women with little to no experience start their ventures. She felt that she could do more than just sell to her audience, but instead also help those few that want to follow in her footsteps.

For this reason, she recently launched a wholesale fashion company, Galifornia Wholesale. Galifornia Wholesale sells styles to small new boutiques at affordable prices. The new wholesale business supports Elsy’s efforts to try and help other young women bring the latest styles to their own boutiques and help them get started in their sales growth. One may find helping other young women build businesses in the same industry Elsy competes in herself may hurt her business in the long run. However, Elsy does not view competition from a negative perspective. The unselfish and kind guidance Elsy hopes to give these young entrepreneurs is something that makes her stand out. Afterall she states that she does not measure success in the amount of money she makes, but instead the number of lives she positively impacts. The four sisters hope to continue their journey, along with helping others as they grow.

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