White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council Visits Cleveland

Last Friday, the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council visited Cleveland and other parts of Ohio to continue its tour of Opportunity Zones. The Small Business Administration was also present to speak with small business owners about how the program can spur investment and drive local hiring.

The meeting gave Cleveland’s OpportunityCLE coalition the chance to highlight key projects happening in Cleveland Opportunity Zones. OpportunityCLE is a collaborative effort between Cleveland and Cuyahoga County’s robust network of public, private, and philanthropic partners. To learn more about this work, click here.

Opportunity Zones were established by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 with the goal of creating long-term investments in regions of low-income rural and urban communities. The program provides tax incentives for investors to re-invest within Opportunity Zones. Members from the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council were hosted by GCP this past May—and last week’s meeting served as a critical touchpoint to connect small businesses to resources.

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  • Next up: With State Capital Bill Underway GCP Gears up to Recommend NEO Projects

    With State Capital Bill Underway GCP Gears up to Recommend NEO Projects

    Per recent guidance from the Office of Budget Management, the state capital bill is underway. This is a legislative-led process that provides funding for community projects across the state. Over the next several months, the General Assembly will work with the Administration to determine and prioritize significant projects to support with capital funding. GCP has historically participated in this process by prioritizing Northeast Ohio projects and advocating their importance to the legislature and Administration.  

    GCP plans to work closely with the legislature to recommend a list of priority projects for the 2019-20 state capital bill. GCP will accept projects for consideration until November 1, 2019 with the intent of seeking approval from its board leadership by mid-November. For more information on the state capital bill or GCP’s process, contact Alesha Washington, Vice President of Government Advocacy.

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  • Next up: 10 Can't-Miss Ways to Supercharge Your Content Marketing

    10 Can't-Miss Ways to Supercharge Your Content Marketing

    Couldn’t make it to Content Marketing World? We’ve got you covered! Here are our 10 takeaways from this year’s show.

    Before this year, I was a Content Marketing World newbie. So before attending this year’s CM World conference, I had no idea that everything, and I mean everything is orange—right down to the orange-dyed deviled eggs in the morning and the orange push-ups for dessert. I had no idea that actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt had his own production company (or, in full disclosure, even who he was. But in even fuller disclosure, I have three girls under the age of 10 so if he doesn’t star on the Disney Channel, I’m not going to be familiar). And mostly, I had no idea I could spend 20 intense hours with a bunch of strangers, discussing content marketing of all things, and come out wishing there was another 20 to go.

    The takeaways were endless, but I’ll focus on just the following five:

    Tip No. 1: Build an audience first, then sell them something. In his opening remarks, CM World founder Joe Pulizzi gave the best example of this advice: Star Wars. Creator George Lucas famously negotiated for the exclusive rights to Star Wars merchandise, which has made nearly $20 billion. It wouldn’t be so without that enormous audience of faithful followers.

    Tip No. 2: Know who you are. Identify your secret sauce and how you’re going to get that across to your audience. What sets you apart? What’s your tone? How are you going bring your company’s personality to life?

    Tip. No. 3: Sell the means, not the end. Serta doesn’t sell you a mattress, they sell you a better night’s sleep. Disney doesn’t sell me a vacation, they sell me a week full of family memories. Focus on the end result, the desire fulfilled, of buying your product or service.

    Tip No. 4: Tell all the stories. Every company has stories to tell, and a lot of times they are right under our noses. Talk with as many people as possible. Find the stories that are relatable and change the lens through which people view your company. Once you find these stories, tell them in a variety of ways using different technologies.

    Tip No. 5: Identify your Influencers. And then use them. Maybe they’re your faculty if you work for a university, or the doctors of your hospital, people who sit on your advisory boards or, of course, celebrities (including popular bloggers and vloggers)—anyone who has influence over your target market. Tag them on social media, tweet at them, encourage them to share your posts and tag you back. Create a buzz around your products or services through your influencers and continue to court them all along the way.

    Let’s dig deeper

    Those are some of my overarching takeaways from my experience at CMW. Now, let’s dig a little bit deeper.

    Tip No. 6: Don’t rely on vanity metrics on social media. This seems to be the latest marketing lingo, but it rings true. So what if one of your posts got 357 likes? Did it lead to anyone purchasing, signing up, providing contact info, seeking more info, etc? Building a brand is important, no doubt. But actual engagement is really where it’s at.

    Tip No. 7: Create secret boards on Pinterest for company personas. Pin things you think interest or appeal to these personas, or that just remind you of your personas (colors, textures, activities, quotes, foods, etc). Share the boards with your team and revisit them every so often for inspiration.



    Tip No. 8: Watch it! Six out of 10 millennials prefer watching a video to reading a newsletter. And we’re all seeking the attention of millennials, right? They are the latest group of consumers, so put some serious thought and effort into making a video!

    Tip No. 9: Caption it! Speaking of videos, did you know 85% of videos on Facebook are watched without sound? Whether it’s that they just don’t care to hear it, or don’t want their coworkers to hear them hearing it, people are foregoing audio. So, make sure your videos are captioned. Not only is it better for SEO and accessibility, but certain words might spark someone’s interest while scrolling through Facebook.


    Tip No. 10: Feel it! When writing, start your piece where it gives you goosebumps. Sometimes it’s at “go” and sometimes it’s not. Focus on the kinds of emotions that trigger goosebumps (shock, awe, sympathy and nostalgia) and draw those out in your story.

    As they said in the opening keynote this year, “Marketing is like a race without a finish line.” All marketers want to get there first. But even when you do, you just have to wake up the next morning and do it all over again. So perhaps the best tip is to just get a good night’s sleep. You’re going to need it.

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  • Next up: 13 Tips to Get Your Brand Balling on a Budget

    13 Tips to Get Your Brand Balling on a Budget

    Marketing expert Jeffrey M. Staats offers 13 tips to go from building your brand to igniting your brand while still staying within a small-business budget. And scroll to the bottom of this article to listen to the full webinar.

    If you missed our most recent WebEd Series, Maximize Your Marketing Spend: Spreading Your Brand Without Spreading Your Budget, you’ll want to read on to hear the great tips offered during this discussion geared specifically toward small businesses.

    Jeffrey M. Staats, a marketing expert with 17 years of experience helping companies grow their businesses by using marketing to their advantage, likes to think of his webinar as teaching small business owners “how to be balling on a budget.”  Because, as a small business owner, the real goal is to be the best at providing a solution to a consumer pain point and then spread awareness and consumption of your brand as much, and as cheaply, as possible.

    In order to be balling on a budget, Jeffrey says it’s helpful to first know the following three fun facts:

    Fun Fact No. 1: Video is hot. So hot, in fact, that 64% of consumers say watching a video on social media influenced them to make a purchase.

    Fun Fact No. 2: Consumers are doing their own research. More than seven in 10 (72%) of B2B buyers are researching options before they even talk to vendors.

    Fun Fact No. 3: If a potential buyer leaves your site, you can still get them back. Exactly 70% of people are more likely to convert with you when they are sent a retargeting ad after looking at your website.

    As a seller, brand awareness is the first step on your journey. For a small business with limited budgets, staffing and time, look for digital marketing to be the majority of your marketing. Jeffrey takes us through the stages of building, growing and igniting a brand, identifying 13 tips along the way that can be done digitally and inexpensively.

    Build Your Brand

    The initial goal with your digital marketing strategy is to build your brand. You’re a small business so you’re probably still working on having a voice within your industry. Take the following five steps toward doing just that.

    Build Your Brand Tip No. 1: Corner the market as a thought leader. Identify an expert in your company and get that person out there to start writing content—whether it’s on your website, blog or social media. The focus should be on the customer’s pain point and what your company can do for them as an industry expert.

    Build Your Brand Tip No. 2: Leverage fans for testimonials. Referrals are key to small-business success and should be a regular part of your marketing strategy. Build a referral program, leveraging your fans—your brand ambassadors—on a regular (i.e. quarterly) basis.

    Build Your Brand Tip No. 3: Align key messaging with SEO. You have a great solution for a customer pain point and you want to make sure it translates into your website and what people are searching for. Have an SEO audit done on your site so that you know where you stand. Keywords and key messages should be built into all important areas of your website.

    Build Your Brand Tip No. 4: Own one social media channel. Small businesses want to be everywhere but it’s just not possible to do it all, well. Choose one channel and post three or four times a week, purchase sponsored ads and create lead forms. It’s better to put your budget efforts toward one channel than spread yourself thin.

    Build Your Brand Tip No. 5: Expand your subscriber base and give them options. When someone signs up for your distribution lists, ask them how often they want to hear from you. Find out what type of content they would like to hear about and what they consider to be their pain points. Let them choose the way they want you to interact with them.

    Grow Your Brand

    Once your brand is established, it’s time to grow it further. Jeffrey offers four steps to experiencing this type of growth and knowledge transfer.

    Grow Your Brand Tip No. 6: Be valuable. Reward someone with something tangible for giving you their email address so that they recognize the value you offer up front. Give them a checklist or a template or something that they’ll find useful and entice them to come back for more.

    Grow Your Brand Tip No. 7: Offer webinars and blogs. Plan a consistent webinar series and blog as part of your content strategy. You’re a thought-leader in your field, after all, so you have a lot of insight to offer. Bring in outside experts to contribute, providing more engagement and furthering your reach.

    Grow Your Brand Tip No. 8: Have media on speed dial. Anything you do that’s worthy—whether it’s hire more people or roll out a new product—should be sent to the media. Create a media spreadsheet with local contacts and send an email every time you have something new.

    Grow Your Brand Tip No. 9: Leverage co-branding. Take advantage of opportunities to create a co-branding marketing campaign with associations or other strategic partners. Spend money to be able to access their lists instead of doing it all on your own. Being backed by an association or other partner is more powerful and gives you additional credibility.

    Ignite Your Brand

    Ultimately, you’re looking for high growth for your company. Here are four tips to ignite your brand and take it to the next level.

    Ignite Your Brand Tip No. 10: Get on review sites. 82% of online buyers look at reviews before making a purchase. Get people to talk about you on the major review sites, such as Yelp.

    Ignite Your Brand Tip No. 11: Leverage chat. Offer a chat option on your website so that you can have a conversation with your potential customer and give them quicker answers to their questions than an online form is capable of providing.

    Ignite Your Brand Tip No. 12: Create a calculator. Offer the capability on your site for potential customers to calculate the ROI or do a product comparison.

    Ignite Your Brand Tip No. 13: Start a video series. This is a great way to bring personality to your brand, while offering expert information and cultivating your content.

    Watch below for a full recap of this webinar.

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  • Next up: 17 Things to Know About the 2017 COSE Annual Meeting

    17 Things to Know About the 2017 COSE Annual Meeting

    So, you weren’t able to join in on all of the fun at COSE’s Annual Meeting last week? Not to worry, we have you covered! Here are the 17 most important things you need to know from the March 2 event that was held at the House of Blues downtown.

    First, let’s start with a recap of all the ways COSE is helping your business grow and succeed.

    1. COSE’s new health benefit option

    On September 1, COSE launched a new health benefit option for small business, the COSE Health and Wellness Trust. This new self-insured health benefits plan gives our members access to preferred rates based on their health experience. So far, COSE has added more than 500 small business groups to the plan and it continues to grow each month, as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act and a preferred opportunity for our members with good health experience.

    2. Job posting resource for small businesses

    A new partnership with CareerBoard will give COSE members access to preferred pricing to post the job opportunities that exist within your company. In addition to preferred pricing, members will have access to Careerboard’s team who can provide expert guidance to ensure your postings are designed to attract the best candidates. You can link to COSE’s job portal here.  

    3. Unique pricing on consumer brands

    Another new partnership with viperks will bring small business owners and their employees special pricing on a large variety of consumer brands, electronics and other purchases. Each COSE member will receive a customized platform with your company logo, brand and other employee specific news and information. This benefit can also be used as a tool for employee rewards and recognition.  For more information, visit www.cose.org/viperks.

    4. Payroll savings benefit

    Late in 2016, COSE entered into a partnership with Compass Payroll providing 15% off the costs of payroll and providing a personalized assistance to support the new ways in which payroll can advance your business.

    5. Small business internship program

    In December, COSE finished a pilot of a small business internship program conducted in conjunction with Youth Opportunities Unlimited and Cuyahoga County Council. A total of 22 students completed projects for 19 small employers focused on social media, sales and market research. This represents COSE’s first foray into a customized small business approach to internships and its success leads us to believe we have an opportunity to do more to provide this kind of support to our members.

    6. YMCA wellness resource

    COSE is finalizing an agreement with the YMCA to create a new wellness resource for small business owners and their employees.  The cost of this program is eligible for funding through grants available through the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. This program is still being finalized and more information will be provided over the next few weeks.

    7. Energy benefits for your home and business

    A new energy audit and rate reduction program has been created for our members in conjunction with FirstEnergy and the Public Utilities Commission, allowing for free audits for small business owners. The program also supports a national grant from the Department of Energy we received to increase access for small business owners to information and resources to support energy efficiency.

    In addition, we implemented a new Small Business Residential Electricity savings program for business owners and their employees. Contact COSE’s Energy Team at 216-592-2205 or via email at energy@cose.org to learn more.

    8. Advocating for the needs of small business

    Representing the voice of small business is a very important part of our work.  In 2016, we continued to see success with our advocacy efforts working closely with the GCP on three important ballot issues to continue support for the transformation of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District; to avoid an onerous proposed increase to Cleveland’s minimum wage; and to handle the push towards the legalization of marijuana with as much support as possible for rules and approaches that do the least harm to the business community.

    And our work within the GCP to support the success of the Republican National Convention resulted in a terrific showcase for Cleveland and the region. Regardless of your politics, there is no dispute that our work together to put the region in the national spotlight was helpful to the perception of the community we do business in.

    9. A reimagined platform for small business growth resources

    Last week, to coincide with the COSE Annual Meeting, COSE rolled out its new digital content portal, Mind Your Business. This resource gives us the ability to share more information with increased frequency about the best ways for you to grow your small business. It also allows us to publish more of your stories, ideas and expertise.  Check out this new resource for small business owners at www.cose.org/myb.

    10. Business growth through education

    We supported the graduation of additional small business owners and leaders through our work with the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. And COSE’s flagship Strategic Planning Course graduated another 20 small business owners as the course completed its 37th year of providing the region’s most successful platform for rethinking and reshaping a small business.

    11. Member involvement

    Last year at this time, we shared with you some of the work we were doing with the GCP to increase the ability of small business owners to be involved and engaged in the GCP’s work. During the past year, we have completed that effort and have actively engaged more than 100 small business owners in the key committees and initiatives of the GCP.  

    And now, let’s take a closer look at some of the priorities for 2017.

    12. Partnership with the National Small Business Association

    With a new federal administration, we will be working closely with our partners at the National Small Business Association (NSBA) to ensure the needs of the small business community are being considered in the work of the new administration. The federal picture gets a little more interesting every day and we are actively working with NSBA and other stakeholders to monitor federal action on health care, taxation and regulation.

    13. Working together with the GCP

    GCP has kicked off a strategic planning effort to look ahead at the work of the business community and the region to continue to support growth and investment. COSE leaders and members will work closely with the GCP as the organization develops its strategy in support of the business community for the next several years. Our small business owners are well positioned to be very involved in helping to set those priorities and to ensure the voice of the small business owner is well represented.

    14. New resources for members

    Continuing to bring forward new resources for our members will also be a commitment in 2017. For example, we are in the early stages of creating a new benefit for you to protect against cyber fraud and identity theft and we are looking at options that could exist in the area of business insurance, as well. We also have plans to increase the access you have to the ability to easily meet and connect with each other.

    COSE was proud to also recognize board, staff and volunteer contributions.

    15. Board recognition

    COSE Chairman Michael Stanek praised the dedicated service of the small business owners who serve as the Directors of COSE’s Board. These leaders provide counsel, support and guidance for the work of COSE on behalf of our members. He specifically recognized Arlene Watson of Mobius Grey for her service to the COSE Board. Arlene’s six-year term ended in December, and Stanek recognized her creativity, passion and willingness to ask the right questions that have made her an asset to COSE.

    New Board members were announced at the meeting and included:

    • Brian Alquist, 1Direction, Inc.
    • Stacy Bauer, BauerGriffith, LLC
    • Tim Dimoff, SACS Consulting
    • John Doyle, FASTSIGNS Downtown Cleveland
    • Tim Opsitnick, Jurrinov
    • Damon Piatek, Welke Customs Brokers
    • Vince Salvino, CodeRed
    • Tony Weber, Goldfarb Weber Creative Media
    • Keith Williams, Good Karma Broadcasting
    • Mireille Wozniak-Michalak, Petiole HR
    • Patty Zinn, Micro Systems Management

    16. 2016 Volunteer Service Award and volunteer recognition

    The 2016 Volunteer Service Award was presented to Nevin Bansal of Outreach Promotional Solutions. Stanek credited his high level of engagement, passion and leadership within COSE.

    In addition, Stanek recognized more than forty members that served the organization on four specific volunteer leadership teams in support of COSE’s mission and priorities. These included the COSE Expert Network, COSE Ambassadors, The COSE Small Business Convention/ BizConCLE and the COSE Small Business Internship program. Each of the participating members was recognized for their work on these teams.  

    17. COSE Staff Service Award

    And last but not least, COSE staff member Gina Messina was honored for her 30-year tenure and commitment to COSE and her support of the organization’s small business mission.

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  • Next up: 2 Dozen Ways to Optimize Your Customer Impact

    2 Dozen Ways to Optimize Your Customer Impact

    If you didn’t join us Jan. 24 for our COSE WebEd Series, you missed an energetic and informative webinar presented by Bob Pacanovsky on providing top-notch customer service experiences. Check out the summary below and scroll to the bottom of this article to view the full presentation, with slides.

    We all have brands or companies that come to mind when we think of premium customer service. Walt Disney World, Lexus, Amazon, maybe Trader Joe’s or your favorite local ice cream store or barber shop. Places that roll out the red-carpet treatment for everyone from Beyoncé to, well, you.

    Now ask yourself, would your business make the list? Speaker and trainer Bob Pacanovsky, with decades of experience in the hospitality industry, encourages business owners to take a look at all aspects of their business as though they were prospective customers. He says that after being so involved in a business for so long, it’s natural to have blinders up when it comes to seeing the small things. But prospective and current customers see these small things. And, they now have the capability to easily take photos or videos and share their experiences with the entire world.

    Take a critical eye to all areas of your business

    So what are these “small” things we’re referring to? Here’s a list of just some of the parts of your business that might need a critical eye to make sure they are clean, up-to-date, fresh and presented in the best possible way.

    Impact tip No. 1: signage and artwork around the building;

    Impact tip No. 2: restrooms, lobbies, hallways and conference rooms;

    Impact tip No. 3: parking lots and the area outside your entrances;

    Impact tip No. 4: carpeting, lighting and paint/wallpaper;

    Impact tip No. 5: website, social media platforms and constituent emails; and

    Impact tip No. 6: your people! (We’ll talk more about this later.)

    Pacanovsky offers several tips on how to check up on all these areas of your business to make sure they’re sending the message you want to send.

    Impact tip No. 7: Take a walk thru of your space, looking in every room that a customer might go into with a critical eye of all aspects of the area.

    Impact tip No. 8: Mystery shop your business or send a trusted friend thru the process of buying in person and sending you feedback about the experience.

    Impact tip No. 9: Place an online order yourself, ensuring that every step throughout the buying process runs smoothly.

    Impact tip No. 10: Try to return an item to your company. What sort of customer service experience do you have?

    Impact tip No. 11: Call your business and listen to how people answer the phone and offer assistance. What is the hold music? How long is the wait time?

    These areas of your business are what Pacanovsky refers to as “impact points.” They are opportunities to not just positively impact your prospective or current customer, but to give them a “black-tie” experience with your company.

    Elevate your image at each impact stage

    Pacanovsky identifies three stages to be aware of along the selling process where an impact can be made. Check out the following three impact stages and what can be done to provide the black-tie experience at each one:

    Impact Stage 1: Prospective Customers

    The first stage deals with customers you haven’t yet acquired. Here are ways he identified to turn these prospective leads into paying customers.

    Impact tip No. 12: Brew coffee that makes the room smell good and place cookies out for prospective customers to enjoy with the coffee.

    Impact tip No. 13: If you’re sitting with a prospective customer, place them in a position where they can see appealing artwork or photos on the walls—perhaps of the city your business is in or of work you’ve done with other clients.

    Impact tip No. 14: Follow-up with a sincere phone call or email thanking them for their time and interest in your company.

    Impact Stage 2: Current Customers

    Now, let’s talk about the customers you have.

    Impact tip No. 15: If you have commercial vehicles, make sure they are clean on the outside and inside.

    Impact tip No. 16: Examine what your brand looks like on social media. Is it clean and well-represented?

    Impact tip No. 17: Do you create an environment where care and trust are subtly expressed, especially in sensitive areas like the restrooms?

    Impact Stage 3: Returning Customers

    Finally, here’s how to keep your customers coming back for more.

    Impact tip No. 18: Learn how your loyal customers take their coffee or about their other specific preferences.

    Impact tip No. 19: Have your reception staff and other greeters learn the names of your frequent customers.

    Impact tip No. 20: Reward your most regular customers (not just your prospective customers) with discounts, gifts of appreciation or special access to thank them for their loyalty.

    It all starts (and ends) with your people

    Pacanovsky points out that an underlying theme (and something we promised we’d talk more about) is a workforce that can help improve each of these impact points. It’s your people, he says, that can influence whether you have a one-and-done customer or a loyal and raving fan.

    He indicates that there are several ways to involve your staff in creating a more positive customer-service experience:

    Impact tip No. 21: Instead of saying “No problem,” encourage your workforce to respond with “It’s my pleasure.”

    Impact tip No. 22: Create a general script for your staff to use when interacting with customers on the phone or in person. Nothing too structured so that there’s still room for conversation, but specific introduction or conclusion language that delivers your message and leaves a positive lasting impression.

    Impact tip No. 23: Make sure emails from your workers to customers are consistent, error-free and on-brand. They should also contain introductory and concluding language similar to the messaging discussed above.

    Impact tip No. 24: Role-play with your workforce so that you can not only see first-hand how they treat customers and the language they use, but also so that your workers can see things through your customers’ eyes. Have them help mystery shop and walk thru the space with you examining the impact points for themselves.

    A good way to ensure that you have happy and positive customer-service providers working for you, is to have happy and positive employees. Treat your employees well and they will also be brand ambassadors for you—promoting your brand and letting others know how much they like working for your company.

    Pacanovsky ended with a quote from Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Leave your customers with the feeling that they are appreciated, valued and respected. Leave them with that “black-tie” experience feeling.

    Be sure to join us for our next COSE WebEd Series. Register today for the Feb. 21 webinar Maximize Your Marketing Spend: Spreading Your Brand Without Spreading Your Budget.

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