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The Ask Amanda Show | Episode #6 | SEASON 2

You’re a business owner who keeps a lot of balls in the air, but no one can successfully master every aspect of service from marketing to bookkeeping while managing a happy, healthy personal life. A financial advisement team makes sure you have a plan that maximizes your options and protects your future, so you have the bandwidth to move your business forward. Chris Ingram, Owner and CEO of Prosperitas Financial, sat down with Amanda Benson-Tilch, host of The Ask Amanda Show to share how hiring a financial advisor is a winning strategy for your small business.

 Hiring a Financial Advisement Team for Your Small Business

The skills that you need to launch a small business in Santa Clarita or anywhere else in the world are wide-ranging and many are unique to your industry. It’s helpful to know your strengths, but it’s equally important to recognize your weaknesses so you can build a team to cover those areas of responsibility where you may not have adequate tools. Reaching out to professionals you can trust for help with the financial aspects of your company frees you up from micromanaging every detail, so you can focus on building your business while also having enough time to spend with your family.

Small business owners don’t always see the benefits of bringing in financial advisement, especially in the early stages when they cover nearly everything themselves.

“They’re trying to wear too many hats and they don’t know how to build the right team,” Chris said. “There are a lot of things that we can do to help them put the right pieces in place so they can focus on the things that they do best, but also get away from the business occasionally and go on vacation and live life at the same time.”

Whether you are still branding your startup company or you’re currently in the midst of running a business – or even if you want to talk about retirement – a financial advisor can help you plan for the future.

Financial Advisement in the Startup Phase

If you’re just launching your small business, a financial advisor can put systems in place that improve your financial position while mitigating organizational problems that sometimes crop up later. To develop a customized system your advisor needs to ask a series of questions through each step of the process:

Helping You Lay the Groundwork

  • What type of entity should you form?
  • What are the legal aspects you need to take into account?
  • How are you planning to fund the business? (i.e., loans vs. a partnership)

Helping You Structure Your Business

  • What is your mission statement?
  • What products are you trying to sell?
  • What is the market you’re looking at?
  • What type of marketing will get the product out there?
  • What do the financials look like going forward?
  • Is this business viable?

Helping You Create Financial Projections

  • Do you have financial projections?
  • What are the goals you’re trying to accomplish?

“Financial projections are part of your business plan,” Amanda said. “If you’re in the startup phase, I can help you and there are other people that can help you with your mission statement, your logo, your photography or marketing, but for the financial projections – which are crucial to your business when you’re starting up –  a financial advisor is somebody you want to reach out to. Don’t just think about your CPA.”

If your business startup ideas look good, a small business financial planner can help you construct a sound, viable business plan and explain such features as:

  • Setting up business checking accounts
  • Creating a personal checking account
  • Opening a business credit card
  • Putting a tracking system in place
  • Making sure records are clean from day one

“Set it up right from the beginning and your life is going to be a lot easier,” Chris said. “A lot of business owners love their idea, they’re passionate about what it is that they want to do, but they don’t understand all these pieces that need to be put into place. It isn’t until about the time they do that first tax return that they find they don’t know what’s going on, their accountant is mad at them because they have no records, and they blame the accountant. I’ve seen that spiral out of control, so we really want to help them set it up right from the startup phase.”

Financial Advisement for an Existing Business

If you set up a small business and it’s running smoothly, you’ll eventually evolve and consider new goals, such as a possible expansion or adding a new service. Your financial advisement team can assess the situation and develop a plan going forward by looking at where your company is today and what it will take to get to the next level.

“That may be bringing in loans or bringing in a partner; again, it goes back to financial projections,” Chris said. “So, what kind of an impact is this growth phase going to have on your existing business? We don’t want it to kill off the existing business, what’s paying the bills, in order to expand and then have it all blow up in your face. You’ve worked really hard for this part back here – we don’t want the expansion to destroy everything you’ve worked for the last couple of decades to build.”

The main questions involved in a financial analysis for taking your small business to the next level include:

  • What does the growth phase look like?
  • What kind of impact will it have on the existing business?
  • What do you need to put in place to be able to take on this next layer of responsibility?

For a financial advisor this phase begins with a litmus test – looking at where the company is today, including an examination of the financials. If the books and records are disorganized and incomplete, you need to clean them up and sometimes it means finding a new accountant.

“You can be in a phase of your business where you outgrow your professional advisors,” Amanda said.

Your financial advisement professional will check to see if you have contracts in place, to be sure they’re comprehensive and protect the partners involved. Existing business support includes identifying and addressing issues within the business.

Trying to uncover all of what is currently wrong with the business and clean it up,” Chris said, “to help you be able to either manage the existing business better going forward or now be able to grow and expand and do all the things that you need to do.”

Financial Advisement for Succession

An effective financial advisor knows how to position you for a successful exit strategy, whether you have a small business in Santa Clarita you are planning to sell, or you have a global enterprise that you’re passing to the next generation.

“If you’re really serious about selling it you need a true business valuation that you can show to people,” Chris said. “We will help you figure out how to get a business valuation, who you’re going to sell it to and what it’s going to look like.”

Financial professionals can maximize your position for retirement, and they understand the tax efficiency of passing your company to the next generation as well as the steps in a buyout structure. Your small business exit strategy involves getting the parties on the same page and mapping out what your company will look like without you.

“Even though it may be 15 to 20 years off into the future, we look at what we should be doing today in order to position them properly because it takes planning and thought to get there,” Chris said. “We just want people to think about it earlier because people typically wait until the last second.”

10 of the Most Common Mistakes Small Business Owners Make

  1. Sloppy records
    1. Mistakes on the legal side of things
      1. Conducting employee reviews without taking notes
      2. No records of client engagement
  • Meetings with partners with no minutes
  1. Mistakes on the financial side of things
    1. Not tracking business expenses
    2. Failing to keep clean records
  • Not using effective systems
  1. Mixing business and personal finances
    1. Keep your accounts separate
  1. Sitting on cash
    1. Do keep extra cash for emergencies or expansion
    2. You can invest it and maintain access to it
  1. Not taking advantage of leverage
    1. You can expand or move to the next level with low interest rates.

I hate debt, but when you give me debt at 3% per year, I kind of love that, because I can make that money earn way more than the interest it’s going to cost me to get that debt,” Chris said. “So, taking advantage of that leverage, maybe it comes with having a financial advisor that can help guide you, so you don’t make a mistake, but using and taking advantage of that leverage right now is more important than ever.”

  1. Not having financial projections for the future

A business plan isn’t just meant for your startup. It’s a working document for your business that you should be looking at no less than once a year. Ask the following: Is your mission still the same? Are your employees still the same? Are your financial projections still the same?

“It is something we preach even on the personal financial planning side,” Chris said. “Financial planning is a living, breathing document you need to be on top of all the time. It’s always evolving, it’s always changing. You need to be updating it, understanding it, making sure it’s current. Those financial projections are important. Most people have no clue. They’re just flying by the seat of their pants doing business every day.”

Business owners need to be able to put the numbers on paper and understand what they’re doing and how it’s going to affect the future growth or profitability of

the business.

  1. No retirement plan or a poorly managed one
    1. No retirement plan at all is almost better than a poorly managed retirement plan
    2. If you’re going to have a retirement plan in your business, be sure the people in your organization understand whose responsibility it is to carry out each task associated with the plan
  1. Not having insurance risk management
    1. You need risk mitigation in place
      1. Buy-sell agreements
      2. Include insurance to protect partners
      3. They need to be official
      4. Key managed policies
  • Disability insurance

“If something happens and there’s no income if you’re not there, without a disability insurance policy you’re at risk and your family is at risk,” Chris said. “It’s there to keep the business alive and pay the expenses of the business if something were to happen to you, to make sure that when you return your business is still standing and that you can go back into it and be able to continue.”

  1. Not having a financial planning team in place

Small business owners can be intimidated and sometimes they don’t think they’re big enough yet. Reach out to a financial advisement team that gives you the opportunity to get advice regardless of size.

  1. Operating without a business coach
    1. Reach outside your own expertise
    2. The biggest CEOs and brightest executives have coaches to lean on
  1. Not paying yourself enough or at all
    1. Pay yourself a reasonable wage
    2. Balance between not paying enough and paying yourself too much 

Meet the Experts

Chris Ingram – Financial Advisor

When CEO and founder Christopher Ingram established Prosperitas Financial, he envisioned a more comprehensive style of wealth management, offering the expertise of professionals in multiple capacities to meet the wide-ranging needs of their clients. This unique collaboration of financial service providers offers advisement in financial planning, wealth management, life insurance, long-term care insurance, disability insurance, corporate benefits, employer retirement plans, health insurance, estate planning and trust services, tax preparation and planning, college guidance, lending, business succession planning, and more. It is a holistic version of financial planning, guidance, and advice provided by elite advisors who are supported by a team of financial specialists and staff.

Chris has spent more than 22 years as an Investment Advisor Representative/Fiduciary and has built his entire career on the uncompromising commitment to provide financial advice and services where the primary focus is helping clients achieve their goals and financial success. The first 5 years of his career he worked with PaineWebber, now UBS, and Morgan Stanley. In March of 2003 he left Morgan Stanley to start his own firm and become an independent financial advisor. Chris’ goal in launching Prosperitas Financial in 2020 was to be able to focus more on the client and less on corporate quotas and other aspects of a big firm.

To get a comprehensive financial plan, contact Brooke Coffey at 661-255-9555 ext. 120 or visit ProsperitasFin.com. You can also find the company on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

Amanda Benson-Tilch – Small Business Consulting

While you may notice her first by her wit and second by her infectious sense of humor, the next thing you’ll learn about Amanda Benson-Tilch is: She’s a problem-solver. Owner and Growth Strategist of Ask Amanda Consulting, she offers the skills, tools, and network it takes to get the job done — no matter the task.

Working with each client differently, she helps identify blocks, present solutions, implement them, and execute. And if she can’t execute, she’ll connect you to someone who can. She’s helped past clients improve their branding, operations, customer service, marketing, company culture, and more. She’s organized a company-wide rebranding and restructuring after it was bought out. And she’s helped local small businesses increase their growth without increasing the headache. From consulting to full-scale project management, Amanda steps in to help your business-level up with ease.

In addition to her work with Ask Amanda, she’s also the Director of Business Development for Thomas Realty Co., a property management company in Burbank, where she oversees the growth of select tenants. Currently, she’s serving as the Managing Director of both Burbank Fitness Club and Burbank Center Apartments. Over the last year, she helped completely rebrand, renovate, and rebuild the gym, and she recently started the same process with their luxury apartments.

Follow Amanda on Facebook and Instagram.

 About The Ask Amanda Show

On any given day, small business owners and entrepreneurs spend most of their time putting out fires, solving problems and asking themselves questions like: “How do I brand this? How do I reach more people online? Why can’t I break through my revenue ceiling and reach the next level of business?” They often feel like an island – holding it all together without the support, clarity, or feedback they need to finally achieve their vision. That’s exactly why Amanda Benson-Tilch created The Ask Amanda Show. As a small business consultant, not only does she have the answers to the questions you keep asking, but she’s also created a podcast community that reminds you: You’re not alone in this journey.

Tune in once a month to get access to small business experts, nuggets of inspiration and answers to those burning questions preventing you from growth. Enjoy powerful guest interviews as Santa Clarita small business experts share their stories and provide actionable steps to help you grow your business. Whether you’re a business owner, aspiring entrepreneur, or someone looking to get more involved in your community, this is your show!

The Ask Amanda Show | Episode #5 | SEASON 2

Women in Business

When a woman takes the helm of a small business or a large corporation for the first time, she needs strength and tenacity to face the challenges of shifting into her new position of power and making necessary adjustments in personnel. Lora Dana, the owner of Country Club RV in Yuma, Arizona, is a strong female and a second cousin to another strong female – Amanda Benson-Tilch, host of The Ask Amanda Show. In this episode of the podcast, she talks with Amanda about the transition from co-owning the business with her husband to becoming sole owner when he passed away. She can attest to the need for a succession plan and offers suggestions for women in male-dominated industries.

Transferring Ownership – Lora’s Story

Lora Dana became a solopreneur in the 1990s when she stepped away from her job working in marketing and advertising at a TV station to launch her own small business. By forming an advertising company, she could become more involved in the Honda-Mitsubishi car dealership she owned with her husband, Brent. Lora worked within their community in Yuma, Arizona, handling all the dealership’s advertising, including radio and TV commercials, which made her the face of the company. Though Brent served as president and she was secretary treasurer, customers who asked to talk to the owner were surprised to see Brent come out because they thought she was in the top spot.

“It worked out really well,” she said. “It was just a perfect blend of businesses, and I did that for quite a few years until it just became a little bit too much with the growth in the community.”

They sold the business, and after a brief retirement the couple opened Country Club RV in Yuma. Their partnership was important, as Lora’s knowledge and participation in running the business paved the way for a smoother transition when he passed away two years later. It is still a successful, thriving business today, in part because they had established a succession plan.

Succession Plan

Many small businesses are not prepared for the inevitable – at some point the enterprise will need to belong to someone else. Every business needs to put a succession plan in place in preparation for possibilities such as:

  • Medical issues
  • Death
  • Retirement
  • Selling the business
  • Moving away

“Not a lot of people talk about or plan for succession,” Amanda said. “Especially if you’re a married couple or if you are in a partnership – determine what’s going to happen to the business, to the accounts, to the clients that you serve if something did happen to one person or the other. That is a big part of really mapping out your business properly.”

Lora had been involved in all aspects of the business before her husband died and when she became the president of the company, they developed another succession plan and put it in place. Her daughter serves as Lora’s right hand in the business, and they have taken the time to form a management team that is reliable and compatible.

Shifting to Female Ownership

Employees don’t always have positive reactions to changes in management. There are times when they lack the flexibility to accept a shift in power within the company’s hierarchy which means issues arise among your team members. Whether you’re a small business in Santa Clarita or a global giant, they need to be addressed before the problems get bigger and harder to handle.

“The team, the employees were great; it was my upper management that I had the issues with,” Lora said. “General manager, sales manager, service manager, primarily in my situation it was my general manager, who was there when Brent was alive. When Brent passed, he just kind of started taking the reins and doing what he wanted. So, I brought in a business consultant, which shocked him, to assess the business.”

Get a Neutral Assessment

A consultant from outside the area can serve as a neutral source of feedback about the effectiveness and compatibility of your personnel. In the case of a small community, such as managing a business in Santa Clarita or Yuma, it’s a good idea to choose someone from outside your area because you’re better informed when you’re open to different viewpoints.

The consultant Lora hired to assess Country Club RV met with each of the employees. “He looked at everything, he looked at the books, payroll, he looked at everything from top to bottom,” she said. “At the end of the first day he came to me, and he said, ‘You know, you’ve got poison here and it’s your general manager.’ I kind of had a feeling, but I needed that reassurance. I knew I was moving in the right direction. … We fired him that afternoon.”

Lora’s proactive stance in getting an outside assessment was the best small business management decision at the time, because she became more aware of problems affecting her employees. “I didn’t see what they were seeing, and it was harming them,” she explained. “I was going to start losing employees, so I think it was really important that I made some moves right away.”

Reaching out for someone to evaluate your business involves setting your ego aside because vulnerability is part of the process, but it reinforces your confidence in making changes to your company.

The Importance of Trust

One of the most important features of your business when it undergoes changes at the top is to establish and fortify trust. The transition is easier when employees already trust the outgoing executives; new leaders need to earn their trust in order to move forward.

“The majority of my employees were very, very faithful and I think I had their trust,” Lora said. “I think the problem I came up against was with management that worked under me but thought that I worked for them. So, we had a little bit of a struggle with that, lost a few employees, but normally it went into such a more positive direction.”

Even associates such as your suppliers and manufacturers may be unaccustomed to dealing with a lady boss – particularly in certain industries. Gaining widespread trust in Lora’s expertise took time because there are very few RV dealers run by females.

“You just stick to your horses, and you go forward, and you have a vision, and you follow through with it. I think that’s the most important thing,” she said. “Just letting people know that we’re still here. It may be me running it by myself instead of my husband and myself, but we’re still here. Our customers are what make us, so that’s our focus.”

Your Business and the Community

The community, including your customer base, can have mixed reactions to a woman in a position of power, so a female who is rising to leadership within a company should be fully engaged rather than taking a backseat to their partner. Lora’s previous involvement in the business gave her an advantage. Surprised responses to Lora’s role began when she and her husband had their car dealership because a woman empowered to make decisions is rare in her field.

Within a small community you see a unique level of pride as they care about their reputation and place among other entrepreneurs. Getting involved with local nonprofits is foundational for Santa Clarita business owners because it’s such an effective way to connect and support each other. Through philanthropy you can earn trust and gain mutual respect with other small business owners and colleagues.

Staying consistent in your community engagement is key to developing a positive reputation. If you can’t support local organizations with a financial donation, you can still get involved by taking your staff to clean up the roadside or serve at an event (it’s a great corporate teambuilding idea too). Lora is a talented artist, so she donates her paintings to benefit local causes from hospice services to the Humane Society.

A positive byproduct of donating time or money is that your company gains exposure, which is important for a new small business owner who needs help getting traction.

“It’s a lot of work, getting your business off the ground, there’s no question,” Amanda said. “But it does make such a difference to feel and know you are giving back to the community that you are asking to support your business.”

The RV business in Yuma gets approximately 100,000 winter visitors, many who are retired, and interfacing with them is Lora’s strong suit. She knows the positive effects of the owner personally connecting with customers by introducing herself and listening to their stories.

“They really appreciate that, and I think it brings us closer,” she said. “In a small community you work off referrals and they’re more likely to go refer you to their friends.”

Advice for Women in Business

Research from 2021 shows that women hold only about 30 of the CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. There are many reasons that so few females get to the top spot of corporations, including issues with confidence and boundaries. Successful businesswomen have identified effective strategies for females who get the opportunity to move into a leadership position or start a small business.

Find Trustworthy Childcare

Particularly when you have young kids, it’s important to find someone you trust, whether it’s a nanny, a neighbor, or a cousin. Determine who will do childcare and put a backup in place. Whether or not you have a husband who is flexible and supportive, you need to feel confident about both your work and the care of your children, relationship with your partner, and status of your household.

Design a Workable Schedule

Even with the best personnel, the structure of your calendar can determine whether your lifestyle is distracting or smooth sailing. From kids to husbands to pets, when you set up a system for their food, activities and care you’re better prepared to handle the unknown occurrences within your business. It helps to have a mindset that’s committed to maintaining the details of your scheduling – both at home and at work. To minimize chaos, make sure that housekeepers, sitters, dog walkers, and family members are all on the same page.

Put systems in place that free you from being tied to the hands-on responsibilities at the workplace. With today’s technology you can access your business from anywhere. There are many web applications that you can utilize to manage your company from a distance – such as your home – at any time.

“It makes such a difference,” Lora said. “I can look at all the deals they’re working, I can look at all the financial statements – everything is right there at my fingertips.”

Ask for Help

Women often feel they can play every role and “do it all,” but it’s time to move past that roadblock and reach out for support. Nothing outweighs the importance of your children, spouse, or other loved ones, but there are going to be times when you need to have someone else help you with responsibilities related to them. Your kids may need to get from point A to point B, for instance.

Every business owner struggles, particularly women who feel responsible for handling both a business and domestic life. Sometimes you can find a better way, and sometimes you sacrifice sleep.

Ask other women how they’re doing and find out from successful female founders how they have been able to manage a business and a family. Reach out to those who have made it through the phase you’re currently struggling to survive.

Consider outside help such as a good accountant to help you handle your finances and consider a righthand person for both work and home.

Supportive people were essential for Amanda to become an entrepreneur. “Their help allowed me to do other things that made me feel that I was being successful at home,” she said. “It allowed me to work to bring home the money to get us to the next phase of life.”

It is an effective part of taking over a business or starting a new venture. While it is difficult for many women to ask for help, you set yourself up for failure by not proactively seeking assistance or refusing to accept it when it’s offered.

Build a Balanced Team

When you’re rebuilding a business or launching a new company, bring a diverse group of people onboard.

Building a team of individuals with strengths you don’t have will maximize your success, according to Rachel Cosgrove, owner of Santa Clarita business Results Fitness and a guest on the Ask Amanda Show last season. Choose people who are experts in your weakest areas, whether it’s proficiency with social media or accounting.

“You have a special trade, you have a special skill set,” Amanda said, “but you don’t have ALL the trades and all of the skill sets, so reach out to other people to fill in those gaps.”

When Lora took over the business she brought in her daughter as a corporate officer and hired a strong and independent female controller. Two of her managers are very different from each other but work together smoothly. “One is great at fixing problems because he’s very calm,” she said. “And the other one is a go-getter. He takes charge and it’s such a great balance.”

This is Lora’s “dream team.”

“It makes such a difference, and it doesn’t always happen overnight,” she said. “It takes a while to find the right people, so don’t be afraid to kind of find your way as I’ve had to do.”

Meet the Experts

Lora Dana – Lady Boss

Lora is the owner and president of Country Club RV located in Yuma, Arizona, a business she and her husband launched in 2013. The company’s motto is “Best people, best product, best place” and she works very hard to live up to that in every way. She has worked for a TV station and launched her own advertising business, but when her husband passed away, Lora shifted into a new role as sole owner of Country Club RV.

A third generation Yuman, Lora expresses her creativity through painting on canvas. Lori is a mother and a grandmother who enjoys raising a number of rescue dogs. A self-proclaimed “people person,” she is happy to connect with others. If you would like to start a conversation or ask her questions about women in business, you can reach out through CCMotorsRV.com or find her on Facebook and Instagram.

Amanda Benson-Tilch – Small Business Consulting

While you may notice her first by her wit and second by her infectious sense of humor, the next thing you’ll learn about Amanda Benson-Tilch is: She’s a problem-solver. Owner and Growth Strategist of Ask Amanda Consulting, she offers the skills, tools, and network it takes to get the job done — no matter the task.

Working with each client differently, she helps identify blocks, present solutions, implement them, and execute. And if she can’t execute, she’ll connect you to someone who can. She’s helped past clients improve their branding, operations, customer service, marketing, company culture, and more. She’s organized a company-wide rebranding and restructuring after it was bought out. And she’s helped local small businesses increase their growth without increasing the headache. From consulting to full-scale project management, Amanda steps in to help your business level up with ease.

In addition to her work with Ask Amanda, she’s also the Director of Business Development for Thomas Realty Co., a property management company in Burbank, where she oversees the growth of select tenants. Currently, she’s serving as the Managing Director of both Burbank Fitness Club and Burbank Center Apartments. Over the last year, she helped completely rebrand, renovate, and rebuild the gym, and she recently started the same process with their luxury apartments.

Follow Amanda on Facebook and Instagram.

 About The Ask Amanda Show

On any given day, small business owners and entrepreneurs spend most of their time putting out fires, solving problems and asking themselves questions like: “How do I brand this? How do I reach more people online? Why can’t I break through my revenue ceiling and reach the next level of business?” They often feel like an island – holding it all together without the support, clarity, or feedback they need to finally achieve their vision. That’s exactly why Amanda Benson-Tilch created The Ask Amanda Show. As a small business consultant, not only does she have the answers to the questions you keep asking, but she’s also created a podcast community that reminds you: You’re not alone in this journey.

Tune in once a month to get access to small business experts, nuggets of inspiration and answers to those burning questions preventing you from growth. Enjoy powerful guest interviews as Santa Clarita small business experts share their stories and provide actionable steps to help you grow your business. Whether you’re a business owner, aspiring entrepreneur, or someone looking to get more involved in your community, this is your show!

The Ask Amanda Show | Episode #4 | SEASON 2

Whether you’re a small business owner or a corporate executive, it is essential to have a skilled, competent human resources specialist in place. To find out how your company can build a stronger infrastructure through an independent HR practitioner, Amanda Benson-Tilch, host of The Ask Amanda Show, invited Selina Thomas of 6 Degrees HR Consulting into the studio. Known as “SCV’s HR Guru,” Selina joins Amanda to discuss everything from creating a comprehensive, updated employee handbook to mandates involving employee perks and diversity training.

Benefits of Hiring an Outside HR Company

From small SCV businesses to global corporations, there are circumstances where it’s more beneficial to turn to an outside HR expert.

Expense

A small business such as a physician’s private practice may not need an HR expert on site, but they still need human resources infrastructure. That includes an employee handbook, employee files, and ongoing training to maintain a company culture that aligns with their mission statement. It is the skeletal building block of your small business. Contracting with an outside HR professional on a case-by-case basis is much more affordable than forming a permanent department in-house.

Even large companies with a human resources department on site can benefit from outsourcing certain services. In some cases, it can be a means of saving money for a corporate business owner, but there are other reasons to use an outside practitioner as well.

Neutrality

At times, sizable companies with an in-house HR department of their own need a neutral, outsourced person to handle policies involving employees or issues with clients. The benefit of using an HR professional who is not on their payroll is “they don’t have the people or the politics,” Selina explained. “Someone who doesn’t have a dog in the fight or skin in the game.”

Circumstances where a company owner may outsource HR services include:

  • Serving a client who wants to have the perspective of a third party from a trusted professional – for example, attorney Brian Koegle sometimes reaches out to Selina for this purpose
  • Conducting a workplace investigation as a third party
  • Handling recruiting and hiring off-site to maintain a discreet process

Recruiting

With the current workforce shortage, business owners needing help with turnover rates can reach out to a human resources specialist to fill gaps by connecting them to top talent.

When searching for new hires, business owners in Santa Clarita benefit from Selina’s connections. She regularly receives resumes from job candidates who are qualified for positions that become available. She posts job opportunities on various platforms such as the College of the Canyons job board, where interested parties respond to 6 Degrees HR Consulting instead of directly to her client. By using a third party instead of conducting a search internally, executives can have their query handled below the radar.

“I have people in the pipeline all the time – especially right now coming back into the workforce – that really rely on that connection,” Selina said, “and I’m glad to be that for everybody.”

New Trainings and Initiatives from Your HR Expert

The latest call for a new training program is sometimes the result of larger social issues. Emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic there were certain matters that came to the forefront for business owners.

“Those things collided for me, which is what I specialize in,” Selina said. “So, you now have all of these things that were maybe not as prevalent being very prevalent in the workplace. Think about trying to be profitable and productive with these things happening.”

There are new mandates and initiatives that companies want to introduce and Selina has been hired by businesses in SCV to help them in the development process. She recently helped develop an initiative for Scorpion in Valencia to create a training for diversity, inclusion and belonging.

Harassment and Cyberbullying

Among the issues that business owners need to begin addressing are sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.

There needs to be change in conduct when it comes to communicating in a way that is appropriate at work. Using Jon Gruden, who resigned from the Las Vegas Raiders, as a recent example, she said that a similar scandal could be fatal to the branding for a small business in SCV without support from an expert. But the resulting culture shock can also be damaging for a large organization like the Raiders. An international brand needs to pivot and not just recover, but ultimately create policy changes.

Selina works with clients to develop new reporting processes and adopting a zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior.  “We have a communication process that allows everyone to feel psychologically safe,” she said. “You really need that when you’re working with people, that they feel psychologically safe at work.”

One of the problems with being lax around questionable behavior is that it segues into consequential actions such as cyberbullying, which increased 3000% during the pandemic. “Because people were comfortable behind the keyboard, behind the phone,” Selina explained, “they were comfortable in their home – they were relaxed, they were loosely dressed or not dressed at all. These are the types of things that people don’t realize – you’re still at work, you’re still accountable and you’re still impactful to someone else that you work with.”

Employees who are shuttered and lose sight of appropriate boundaries will ultimately burden the company when their actions result in a sexual harassment claim. That’s the type of pattern that emerged over the crisis.

Developing Preventative Policies

Your HR specialist needs to train staff members to develop a mindset and incorporate accountability – first on the individual level. When employees personally adopt that mindset, they can extend it to their colleagues and ultimately affect the company culture.

The mindset comes from an infrastructure created through policy, training, protocols, and process. The goal is to create a campaign of awareness that makes a difference, not just put a policy in place and hope it works. An ongoing strategic partnership with an HR expert provides the collaboration and support for your business that makes the changes sustainable.

“Some of it is truly just processing the crisis and helping the owner realize ‘how did it evolve?’” Selina explained. “So, we’re doing a little bit of debriefing, too, so we can avoid it happening.”

To survive and thrive, an international corporation or small SCV business needs to update its policies and procedures. You’re mitigating risk when you have these training programs, but it’s not enough. You need to have a mindset, a company culture that ascribes to that training in real life.

“Compliance with the people part is essential because there has to be the buy-in for that to really emerge in action,” Selina said.

The Employee Handbook

An outsourced HR professional can help you create or update your employee handbook. One of the handbook’s most important features is the definition it provides new hires.

“When you’re orienting them to who you are and what your standards are, what your expectations are – it’s in that book,” Selina explained. “It truly is your company bible.”

The introduction to your company is essential – the new employee is getting to know you and vice versa. For HR best practices, the employee handbook should include such content as:

  • Sick pay
  • Holiday scheduling
  • Policy for extended leave
  • Discipline
  • Attendance
  • Medical/dental benefits
  • Maternity leave
  • Code of conduct
  • Dress code
  • Policy on use of cell phones
  • Policy regarding use of Internet and email

The rules and guidelines in your employee handbook reflect your company’s expectations – you don’t want a cookie cutter guide. In heavily litigious states such as California, defending your company really does come back to what you provided the employee as a guide to who you are and what the rules are.

Every new hire should receive a full copy, digital if possible, so they can refer to policies even when they aren’t at work. With attrition rates and employment turnovers, you don’t need to print a hard copy for everyone; but keeping one on site is a good idea.

You should update the handbook once a year, typically January 1, because mandates change annually. An outside HR professional can offer you an overall assessment of your current handbook to see where you are and provide a trajectory to make it current.

If you’re a growing SCV business that’s evolved as a company, there may be regulations that are no longer applicable. And the reverse is true as well.

“You could be shrinking your business and you need things to be tighter,” Amanda pointed out. “And maybe roles have changed.”

Throughout the COVID epidemic, many companies instituted remote employment options. “The whole process of accessing your employees and expectations is different, so they had to restructure their handbook for the remote worker,” Selina said. “There are different guidelines for that.”

Questions that employers now need to consider include:

  • Are you required to be on camera when you’re on a meeting?
  • What are you allowed to say?
  • What access does the business owner have to your home office?
  • Can they tap into your computer when you work remotely?

“We’ve evolved, so your handbook has to evolve,” Selina said. “These are things that people don’t think about, but that I specialize in.”

The process of incorporating an outside HR practitioner is organic. You may reach out for changes to the handbook, then realize they can help your small business grow more inclusive by training staff, or prevent labor lawsuits with proper recruitment practices.

“I have so many different types of companies, but the common denominator in each one is that there are people,” Selina said. “Whether it’s a different industry or not, I just love being around people. I love helping companies grow. I love seeing owners who are coming out of recovery at this point saying, ‘Our company is in a comfortable place, in terms of the company culture.’”

Meet the Experts

Selina Thomas – SCV’s HR Guru

As the owner and founder of 6 Degrees HR Consulting, Selina Thomas is a strategic partner working with businesses in Santa Clarita as well as others in California and across the country. A seasoned professional with 15 years of human resource experience, she’s a proven compliance and safety specialist with an emphasis on human resources infrastructure and business development. She offers support for business owners, managing the company’s day-to-day HR needs including offer letters, background checks, on-boarding, employee records management, employee relations and more.

With PHR (Professional in Human Resources) certification and as a SHRM-CP (Society for Human Resources Management Certified Professional), Selina is committed to lifelong learning which includes earning a minimum of 80 continuing education units annually. This enables her to be updated on new mandates, both in and out of California.

Selina launched the company in 2014 working out of a local Starbucks, choosing the name 6 Degrees which refers to the global concept that everyone on the planet is connected by six people. An advocate for the business community, employers, and their employees, she brings the voices of the community to the public in a bi-weekly podcast show for the SCV Signal, providing the latest information and stories about the people behind the businesses of SCV.

She can be reached through her website, 6degreesHRconsulting.com. Keep up with Selina through her video podcast  and on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Amanda Benson-Tilch – Small Business Consulting

While you may notice her first by her wit and second by her infectious sense of humor, the next thing you’ll learn about Amanda Benson-Tilch is: She’s a problem-solver. Owner and Growth Strategist of Ask Amanda Consulting, she offers the skills, tools, and network it takes to get the job done — no matter the task.

Working with each client differently, she helps identify blocks, present solutions, implement them, and execute. And if she can’t execute, she’ll connect you to someone who can. She’s helped past clients improve their branding, operations, customer service, marketing, company culture, and more. She’s organized a company-wide rebranding and restructuring after it was bought out. And she’s helped local small businesses increase their growth without increasing the headache. From consulting to full-scale project management, Amanda steps in to help your business level up with ease.

In addition to her work with Ask Amanda, she’s also the Director of Business Development for Thomas Realty Co., a property management company in Burbank, where she oversees the growth of select tenants. Currently, she’s serving as the Managing Director of both Burbank Fitness Club and Burbank Center Apartments. Over the last year, she helped completely rebrand, renovate, and rebuild the gym, and she recently started the same process with their luxury apartments.

Follow Amanda on Facebook and Instagram.

 About The Ask Amanda Show

On any given day, small business owners and entrepreneurs spend most of their time putting out fires, solving problems and asking themselves questions like: “How do I brand this? How do I reach more people online? Why can’t I break through my revenue ceiling and reach the next level of business?” They often feel like an island – holding it all together without the support, clarity, or feedback they need to finally achieve their vision. That’s exactly why Amanda Benson-Tilch created The Ask Amanda Show. As a small business consultant, not only does she have the answers to the questions you keep asking, but she’s also created a podcast community that reminds you: You’re not alone in this journey.

Tune in once a month to get access to small business experts, nuggets of inspiration and answers to those burning questions preventing you from growth. Enjoy powerful guest interviews as Santa Clarita small business experts share their stories and provide actionable steps to help you grow your business. Whether you’re a business owner, aspiring entrepreneur, or someone looking to get more involved in your community, this is your show!

The Ask Amanda Show | Episode #3 | SEASON 2

Small Business Legal Advice

Navigating the roiling tide of California business law is challenging, so Amanda Benson-Tilch, host of The Ask Amanda Show, invited attorney and partner Brian Koegle of Poole Shaffery & Koegle into the studio. His clear, concise explanations provide a roadmap for small business owners who are in the dark about regulations that could put them in jeopardy and cost them a lot of money. He shares his expertise in hiring practices, proper termination, and the definition topics from how to hire, proper termination, and the definition of independent contractor.

Learn the Business Laws that Apply to You

Whether you’re a California employer, such as a Santa Clarita small business owner, or you run a corporation, your legal obligations are not that difficult once you know them. The challenge is to identify which laws apply to you and effectively manage the problems and issues that arise. Many proprietors know how to run a successful business but have little knowledge about their legal compliance.

If you find yourself turning to “Google lawyers” for business laws in California, you could be getting outdated advice stemming from the last decade.

When it comes to employment decisions, business owners operate from a place of scarcity – they are reactive, not proactive. But by spending just a few hours a year learning the laws that apply to your business, you can eliminate or reduce your liability risks. Being proactive can also help a small business owner recruit and retain the best possible talent.

Oftentimes company leadership is hyper-focused on increasing profitability, customer retention and other concerns, while placing less attention on the big picture. Entrepreneurs and executives should incorporate the services of a labor law specialist in their quarterly agenda because that review would go a long way toward protecting their company.

Poole Shaffery & Koegle offers their clients the use of their conference room to host their quarterly or annual meetings. If there are multiple business owners, it enables them to centralize and spend an hour or more with attorneys who pose questions such as:

  • Did you file your statement of information with the California Secretary of State?
  • Did you update your meeting minutes?
  • When was the last time you reviewed your bylaws?
  • How do you feel about your employment policies and procedures?

A huge area where California employers fall short is when they don’t know their policies and procedures – or they fail to uphold them. Senior staff members need to practice what’s in the company’s handbook, or they can get into trouble with an employee who points out their infractions.

Hiring Tips

Hire Slowly

When Brian provides help for California business owners, his number one tip for hiring procedures is to hire slowly and fire quickly. Unfortunately, the reverse is often the case – small businesses hire quickly because they feel desperate and take anyone with a pulse. But that increases the chance that a person joins the team and doesn’t fit your company’s culture. They may lack dedication or discipline in their craft or even become a cancer in the workplace.

“Surgery to carve out that cancer … to cure that problem is very painful, very time-consuming, and many times very expensive for a California business owner,” Brian said.

The best advice for business owners in Santa Clarita and in other parts of the state is: hire slowly. There should be multiple rounds of interviews where the candidate meets individuals who can point out red flags or warning signs.

Document Every Step of the Way

Make sure that you are documenting everything so there can’t be a claim later accusing you of discriminating against a candidate you didn’t choose to hire.

In California, if you advertise for a position – you put an ad on Indeed or you advertise on SCV Jobs, for instance – you’re required to keep a copy of the ad for 4 years or you are out of compliance with the regulations of California.

You are also supposed to keep resumes and any applications you’ve solicited for 3 years. If there’s a claim of discriminatory hiring practices – you picked this type of person because they look a certain way or they fall within a particular category of individual – you want to be able to refer to your documentation to demonstrate compliance.

“Fundamentally, these tiny little things – even if you’re just sending an email to a business partner or a hiring director – just 3 minutes out of your day can go a long way to protect you on a claim of discriminatory hiring practices,” Brian said.

There’s a checklist of items that every employer is mandated to have at the point of hiring an employee.

You’re required to have a Labor Code 2810.5 notice for every non-exempt employee that works for you. It’s a simple form provided by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement which lays out:

  • Who the employer is
  • When the payday periods are
  • How much the employee gets paid
  • Other fundamentals of the hiring process.

If you don’t have that form in your employee file for every nonexempt employee, it’s a $500 penalty. According to Brian, approximately 50% of employers in the state of California are not adhering to this practice.

Look at Multiple Candidates

Don’t interview just one candidate. Part of the “hire fast” routine is hiring the first candidate you find. Cast a wider net to make sure you’re not just looking for someone who looks like you or talks like you or thinks like you.

Santa Clarita entrepreneur Rachel Cosgrove of Results Fitness talked about teambuilding in Santa Clarita on the Ask Amanda Show last season. She underscores the need to bring in new hires with skills that your senior staff members don’t already have.

Amanda advises business owners to hire around their core values and to run job candidates by their whole team. When you get buy-in from your existing staff, employees feel invested in the business which is a great tool to retain the best talent.

Brian has a “New Hire Checklist” which he offers with no cost or obligation to anyone who emails him.

Independent contractors

The rule in California until 2018 had generally been that the degree of control a business owner had over the person’s work would determine whether they were an independent contractor or an employee. The more control the business owner exercised, the more likely it was an employment relationship. The less control, the more independent, then the more likely it was a contractor relationship.

The problem was that it was a very subjective test and there were inconsistent rulings from judges. A case made its way to the California Supreme Court which created a standard called the ABC Test which uses 3 elements to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor.

The ABC Test

“A” is basically the control of the work that’s being done: “Is the control centralized at the employer or is the control being centralized at the contractor?”

Part C asks: “Is this an independent customary business outside of whatever business it is that you’re operating?” Positions such as lawyers, accountants, and marketing professionals are still traditionally going to be viewed as independent contractors.

The “B” portion of the test is where employers tend to get it wrong. In California, fewer than 8% of people who are designated “independent contractors” truly satisfy Part B of the test, which asks: “Is the work that’s being done separate and distinct from the purpose or directives of your business?”

For instance, if you’re a widget maker and the work has anything to do with widgets – whether it’s manufacturing the widgets, finalizing in quality assurance, or selling the widgets, administering the backroom bookkeeping of the business, or packaging or distribution – it is deemed employment. They are not independent contractors.

If a business owner has a huge order and needs more staff to handle just one project, it’s called a “temporary employee.” Whether it’s 30 days or 90 days, he or she is an employee.

Misclassifying an Independent Contractor

Currently, there are three primary ways that employers are getting nabbed on their misclassification. The California Employment Development Department, or EDD, is doing their own audits, which is a huge crackdown on independent contractors. They look at a business’ tax returns and determine how many 1099s they’re sending out and at what level, and they choose some companies for an automatic audit.

“If you get one of those letters from the EDD you need to be afraid, because if they’re sending you an audit request, they already have enough information to probably nab you from this classification and the penalties can be significant,” Brian said.

A small business with 13 independent, high dollar contractors sought help from Brian because an audit confirmed a misclassification. The penalty was $781,000. Brian’s firm engaged in an aggressive appeal process that brought the penalty down to about $65,000.

Over the last two years, a number of industries have lobbied to get specific carve-outs for their industries, such as hair and nail salons. On the flip side, Uber and Lyft and Uber Eats had to go to the ballot box in November of 2020. It passed and it’s still being subject to challenge at the court level.

Discipline and Termination Rules

Wrongful termination is now the number one area of litigation in the state of California, including harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and general public policy terminations. To prevent these suits, Brian’s advice, again, is to hire slow and fire fast. The longer an employee stays on, the more likely there is an opportunity for something to go wrong.

“All of a sudden somebody makes a stray comment about them, all of a sudden they may have a stress-based claim,” he said. “All of a sudden they’re out on a workers comp leave so they now have a protected category.”

When someone is hired before age 40 and terminated after 40, they can claim age discrimination because in California it’s an “age 40 threshold.”

Is There a Probation Period?

There has never been such a thing as probationary period in California because it’s an at-will state.

“An employee is on probation on day one and day 10,847,” Brian explained. “You may terminate them at any time, with or without notice, with or without cause, so long as the reason behind the termination decision doesn’t violate California’s public policy.”

Documentation and Termination

“Everything, everything in my world comes around to documentation,” he said. “Understand if it’s not documented it didn’t exist.”

In California, although the presumption is in favor of the employer, if it comes down to the employee’s word versus yours and you don’t have documentation, you will lose.

Sometimes documentation regarding termination involves getting the employee to sign off.

“I prefer to see an opportunity for the employee to cure their bad behavior especially if it’s something that can be cured – attendance, punctuality, something along those lines,” Brian said. “Have a discussion about where their performance is failing so that they have an opportunity to get things right. It’s not a legal mandate; it’s just the right thing to do.”

But it doesn’t have to be a formal writeup. Brian offered a sample conversation:

“It could be something as simple as sitting down and saying, ‘Listen, you’ve been late 7 times in the last 30 days. If there’s something going on you can let us know. We’re going to work with you, but you need to understand that attendance is a key part of your role and if you’re not physically present on time you’re in violation of our policies. So, this is now a scenario where I’ve got to warn you that if it becomes a repeated issue, you will be subject to discipline, maybe even including termination.’”

At this point you document the conversation with an email to your business partner or the worker’s supervisor.

Severance Pay

Brian advises California employers to offer employees a small severance package, whether you fire them, or they leave your company. It’s a cheap insurance policy because in return, the employee signs off that they’re not going to bring a claim against you, so you avoid wrongful termination suits.

Don’t rely on non-disclosure agreements, however, as NDAs rarely hold up in California.

Meet the Experts

 Brian Koegle – Labor Law

 An attorney and partner at Poole Shaffery & Koegle, Brian specializes in labor with a focus on employment law. He provides counsel to employers across various industries regarding hiring practices, employment contracts, wage and hour issues, compensation, discipline, and termination matters.

He represents employers in mediation, arbitration, litigation, and various administrative hearings, defending a wide range of employment discrimination and fair employment practice cases. He also assists employers in the design, drafting, modification and implementation of personnel policies, procedures and employee handbooks and conducts personnel policy audits.

Brian guides employers with respect to all aspects of wage and hour compliance, including overtime calculations, meal and rest period requirements, and statutory penalties arising from non-compliant policies and procedures. He also counsels employers on leaves of absence, including family and medical leaves, alcohol and drug rehabilitation leaves, and leaves involving pregnancy-related disabilities. He is a frequent writer and speaker on a variety of labor and employment-related matters.

Brian also counsels business owners with regard to business and commercial disputes, including protection of trade secrets and proprietary information, and has first chair trial experience litigating business and employment matters.

He is a member of the Labor and Employment Sections of the California State Bar and the Los Angeles County Bar Association and serves as an Associate Fellow in the Litigation Counsel of America (LCA). He has been recognized by SuperLawyers/Los Angeles Magazine each year between 2010 and 2017 (2010-15 as Rising Star, and 2016-17 as SuperLawyer).

Poole Shaffery & Koegle is located in Santa Clarita with offices throughout Southern California. There are resources available on the website, Pooleshaffery.com. Brian loves helping small business owners in California who don’t know the rules of the road when it comes to employment and labor law. Reach out to Brian by emailing Bkoegle@pooleshaffery.com or call him at 661-290-2991.

Amanda Benson-Tilch – Small Business Consulting

While you may notice her first by her wit and second by her infectious sense of humor, the next thing you’ll learn about Amanda Benson-Tilch is: She’s a problem-solver. Owner and Growth Strategist of Ask Amanda Consulting, she offers the skills, tools, and network it takes to get the job done — no matter the task.

Working with each client differently, she helps identify blocks, present solutions, implement them, and execute. And if she can’t execute, she’ll connect you to someone who can. She’s helped past clients improve their branding, operations, customer service, marketing, company culture, and more. She’s organized a company-wide rebranding and restructuring after it was bought out. And she’s helped local small businesses increase their growth without increasing the headache. From consulting to full-scale project management, Amanda steps in to help your business level up with ease.

In addition to her work with Ask Amanda, she’s also the Director of Business Development for Thomas Realty Co., a property management company in Burbank, where she oversees the growth of select tenants. Currently, she’s serving as the Managing Director of both Burbank Fitness Club and Burbank Center Apartments. Over the last year, she helped completely rebrand, renovate, and rebuild the gym, and she recently started the same process with their luxury apartments.

Follow Amanda on Facebook and Instagram.

About The Ask Amanda Show

On any given day, small business owners and entrepreneurs spend most of their time putting out fires, solving problems and asking themselves questions like: “How do I brand this? How do I reach more people online? Why can’t I break through my revenue ceiling and reach the next level of business?” They often feel like an island – holding it all together without support, clarity, or feedback they need to finally achieve their vision. That’s exactly why Amanda Benson-Tilch created The Ask Amanda Show. As a small business consultant, not only does she have the answers to the questions you keep asking, but she’s also created a podcast community that reminds you: You’re not alone in this journey.

Tune in once a month to get access to small business experts, nuggets of inspiration and answers to those burning questions preventing you from growth. Enjoy powerful guest interviews as Santa Clarita small business experts share their stories and provide actionable steps to help you grow your business. Whether you’re a business owner, aspiring entrepreneur, or someone looking to get more involved in your community, this is your show!

The Ask Amanda Show | Episode #2 | SEASON 2

The Advantages of Hiring a Virtual Assistant

When small business owners decide to take their company to the next level they can easily get overwhelmed as their workload increases and they need a more varied skill set. That’s why Amanda Benson-Tilch, host of The Ask Amanda Show, sat down with Ashley Carlson of Elevate Virtual Assistant Services, a company offering the kind of administrative support that helps local businesses grow and succeed without the pressure of hiring new staff.

What is a Virtual Assistant?

The primary goal of virtual assistance is to help business owners and entrepreneurs solidify and scale their companies by taking charge of their growing list of administrative responsibilities so they can handle other aspects of the business. A virtual assistant, or VA, is a specialist who can manage the back end of your business, handle customer service and fill the responsibilities of other roles within your company so you don’t have the pressure of hiring another employee.

A professional VA steps in to help their clients:

  • Find their goals
  • Stay focused
  • Create a work/life balance
  • Focus on their area of genius

Why would a small business owner hire a virtual assistant?

Whether you’re a growing Santa Clarita business or an entrepreneur from across the globe, you may need help to practice optimum time management. A burgeoning company has a rising number of moving parts which can tempt an executive to juggle it all. But by spending too much time on the back end or handling administrative details, you don’t have the time and energy to focus on the duties that bring you success and joy.

“When you launch a business, you start small, so as the business owner, you do everything,” Ashley explained. “As you grow, your time and attention need to be more fractional of that whole scope of things … it’s just about learning where that is and where you can delegate and that way you can refocus.”

Founders of startups, entrepreneurs and solopreneurs reach out for virtual assistance because to truly grow your small business you need to be freed up to focus on the sales, on what brings in revenue – new clients and further growth.

What is a ‘discovery call’?

Similar to working with a small business coach or consulting with a visual marketing expert, the specialists at Elevate VA begin the process with a “discovery call.” The first job is to determine where you’re spending most of your time, which involves writing down your day-to-day activities and your to-do lists – both daily and weekly. During your discovery call you gain actionable advice by examining your to-do list and highlighting the tasks you can delegate.

They are sometimes referred to as “delegation strategy calls” because you’re developing new strategies such as areas of responsibility within your company. Your virtual assistant works with you to address your small business struggles and identify your primary pain points.

What are the main reasons that people contact a virtual assistant?

Typically, people seek help from a virtual assistant because they’re overwhelmed with their day-to-day business. The purpose is to reorganize and unload unnecessary burdens.

  1. Time Management

When struggling business owners or company founders are not reliant on an executive calendar, they find themselves double-booking and don’t even realize they’ve missed appointments, or they sit in meetings all day without taking breaks. One of the roles of a virtual assistant is to address the number of engagements a single member is capable of sustaining and other notable areas of imbalance in their client’s time management.

“That’s probably one of the things we do most for people and it’s one of my favorite things because a really, really crazy-looking calendar is like a puzzle,” Ashley said.

On the kickoff call your virtual assistant should find out what your ideal day would look like. For some it means a reduction in back-to-back meetings or a longer lunch break.

“We just talk about an ideal world – what you would be happy with, schedule-wise – and then we dive into your calendar and take a look at what’s existing and how we can change it to get as close to that ideal world as possible,” Ashley explained.

When Google Teams or Zoom links are involved a paper calendar isn’t going to work. Creating a digital calendar provides an effective solution to help business executives with time management. Not only are you keeping a physical record of your schedule, but you can also send invites to include associates on a phone call or for a meeting. You can attach anything to it – a document or an agenda, or if you just want to include some notes.

Your virtual assistant can access your digital calendar and easily manage the schedule for your whole team, resolving scheduling conflicts and lining up the most ideal arrangement for you and your staff.

“That is how you actually scale your business,” Amanda said, “by removing the things that are time sucking and giving them to somebody who you trust and is capable and has an understanding of what you want your day to be like.”

  1. Email Management

The kickoff call may include a deep dive into the executive’s protocol in opening and responding to their emails. “Sometimes their inbox is so full they don’t get back to people because it’s out of control,” Ashley said.

“One of my clients just won’t reply to emails because there are so many and she feels overwhelmed, so she just avoids it,” Amanda said. “It’s the biggest mistake you can make because you’re leaving money on the table.”

Virtual assistance specialists can develop a customized procedure to meet their client’s unique needs. After an initial cleanup of your inbox, they will unsubscribe from sources you don’t need.

“Really getting to where things are flowing, where if something lands in your inbox you can see what needs attention,” Ashley explained. “We have some clients who want us to check their inboxes every day and flag ‘needs response’ or ‘push it away.’ … Nothing is ever permanent, so if something isn’t working, we just change it and find a way that works.”

  1. Organizing

Whether you’re a Santa Clarita company marketing new products or a corporate enterprise with a powerful business model, you constantly face the challenge of keeping your projects organized throughout the process of growth and expansion. Many executives have trouble keeping projects cohesive and running a tight ship.

A virtual assistant can create templates for your use which streamline and tighten the documentation process. Using a platform such as Google Docs they can place them in appropriate folders to reduce the time it takes for you to search for them. It’s just a digital version of “old school” binders with dividers.

  1. Social Media Marketing

Elevate VA has team members who specialize in marketing related tasks such as social media management, blogging, and newsletters. The social media specialist spends time engaging with the public and works with the client to develop a plan for content.

Your brand gains traction through consistent exposure while you don’t have the burden of creating posts every day. Using their “creative marketing brain,” electronic arts (EA) team members have a specific skill set that enables them to design graphics that resonate in the marketplace, which an executive may not have the will or the experience to do.

“It can oftentimes feel so overwhelming to have a consistent presence on social media, so I know for me it’s been a huge relief to know that someone is creating something three days a week, five days a week, whatever it is,” Ashley said.

  1. Personal Assistance

One aspect available through a virtual assistant service is they can help an executive with personal tasks. When your business is on the rise and time becomes scarce, they can streamline your personal responsibilities to give you more space.

Some of the services your virtual assistant can offer are:

  • Schedule medical appointments
  • Make dinner reservations
  • Remind you about an anniversary/holiday
  • Research gift options
  • Purchase gifts
  • Book travel
  • Plan a corporate outing

How can someone become a virtual assistant?

Because of the flexibility of hours and the fact that the support services are done remotely, becoming a virtual assistant is a great career move for people who are staying home, such as parents with young children. There are positions where you can augment your income or dive in as a full-time career.

As a virtual assistant you help small business owners succeed through services from revising their schedules to email and social media management.

“A number of people on our team actually transitioned from a 9-to-5 executive assistant position because, for example, they had kids and they wanted to be able to stay home but continue working because they genuinely love EA,” Ashley said.

The advantage to joining the staff of a small agency such as Elevate Virtual Assistant Services is that existing clients are already engaged. The agency does the marketing, the billing, the contracts, etc., so a budding entrepreneur can get their feet wet.

 

Meet the Experts

Ashley Carlson – Virtual Assistant

As an experienced Virtual Assistant, Project Manager, and soon-to-be Certified Director of Operations, Ashley has had the pleasure of partnering with some incredible clients over the years. Being a part of their success has brought her so much joy, which is what prompted Ashley to create Elevate Virtual Assistant Services, a team of experienced executive assistants who can help more clients reach their goals, find their work/life balance, and get back to focusing on their area of genius/passion.

The Elevate VA team has quickly grown to include staff members from across the country, who all contribute to a supportive co-working environment with shared values including a healthy work/life balance.

Keep up with Ashley on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Amanda Benson-Tilch – Small Business Consulting

While you may notice her first by her wit and second by her infectious sense of humor, the next thing you’ll learn about Amanda Benson-Tilch is: She’s a problem-solver. Owner and Growth Strategist of Ask Amanda Consulting, she offers the skills, tools, and network it takes to get the job done — no matter the task.

Working with each client differently, she helps identify blocks, present solutions, implement them, and execute. And if she can’t execute, she’ll connect you to someone who can. She’s helped past clients improve their branding, operations, customer service, marketing, company culture, and more. She’s organized a company-wide rebranding and restructuring after it was bought out. And she’s helped local small businesses increase their growth without increasing the headache. From consulting to full-scale project management, Amanda steps in to help your business level up with ease.

In addition to her work with Ask Amanda, she’s also the Director of Business Development for Thomas Realty Co., a property management company in Burbank, where she oversees the growth of select tenants. Currently, she’s serving as the Managing Director of both Burbank Fitness Club and Burbank Center Apartments. Over the last year, she helped completely rebrand, renovate, and rebuild the gym, and she recently started the same process with their luxury apartments.

Follow Amanda on Facebook and Instagram.

About The Ask Amanda Show

On any given day, small business owners and entrepreneurs spend most of their time putting out fires, solving problems and asking themselves questions like: “How do I brand this? How do I reach more people online? Why can’t I break through my revenue ceiling and reach the next level of business?” They often feel like an island – holding it all together without support, clarity, or feedback they need to finally achieve their vision. That’s exactly why Amanda Benson-Tilch created The Ask Amanda Show. As a small business consultant, not only does she have the answers to the questions you keep asking, but she’s also created a podcast community that reminds you: You’re not alone in this journey.

Tune in once a month to get access to small business experts, nuggets of inspiration and answers to those burning questions preventing you from growth. Enjoy powerful guest interviews as Santa Clarita small business experts share their stories and provide actionable steps to help you grow your business. Whether you’re a business owner, aspiring entrepreneur, or someone looking to get more involved in your community, this is your show!

The Ask Amanda Show | Episode #1 | SEASON 2

Why is SEO so Important for Your Business?

After a spirited discussion about search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising and social media marketing last season, Amanda Benson-Tilch, host of The Ask Amanda Show, recently invited Valencia digital marketing expert Alison Lindemann of WSI Internet Consulting back for a deeper dive. If you’re ready to develop and launch a digital marketing strategy for a small business in SCV or beyond, you can gain a leg up on your competition with these tips and tools to increase your brand’s exposure. To achieve that goal your website needs to show up as high as possible on Google when someone enters search terms for a business like yours.

The Difference Between SEM and SEO

Digital marketing terms SEM and SEO are easily misunderstood because they sound similar, but they’re two different aspects of a successful business growth plan.

Search engine marketing, or SEM, refers to the results from a search on Google or any other search engine. This kind of visibility for a business typically refers to exposure gained from paid advertising.

Search engine optimization, or SEO, refers to Google’s algorithm which chooses which websites to feature at the top of the search results. SEO is a long-term strategy where you gain organic exposure based on the targeted content you integrate into your website pages.

There are various methods to drive your website to appear at the top of a web search:

  1. Paid Advertising – A paid ad from Google to show up on the first page when someone enters specific search terms
  2. Organic Results – Gaining free exposure from search engine marketing strategies
  3. FAQ Answers – Content you provide Google which leads to greater visibility for your business

It takes time to build credibility with Google organically, so if you want to boost your exposure quickly you need to buy ads.

You can employ all of these methods, blending paid advertising with keyword placement, to maximize your impact, but SEO is a long-term strategy. If you hire a marketing strategist who assures you an organic spot at the top of Google within days, you will be disappointed. A knowledgeable marketing consultant will advise you to let your SEO strategy continue and give it time to move your website up the ranks until Google places it at or near the top.

Developing an SEO Strategy

It’s important to validate that when a person uses a search phrase or types in a question to search for products or services, it gets you in front of your potential clients or customers. SEO aims to do that. There are tremendous advantages to the process because when someone enters a search with specific words, they’re already somewhat interested in what your business has to offer. Those people already have a desire to learn more about your products or services.

The formula for gaining exposure by posting content that Google wants to promote on page one is data-driven and strategically based. Before you invest time and money into expanding your SEO practices, examine available data from Google. Find out how many people are conducting searches using keywords and phrases related to your business. Find out the volume of traffic and if it’s a good fit for your type of industry. See if your competitors are showing up on searches with those terms to see if your strategy has promise.

If you’re a business owner who is not tech savvy you probably won’t invest in sophisticated software, but there are some free versions of tools to use. You can also simply type in the search terms and see if the companies that come up are comparable to yours. If they’re just informational sites, for instance, which are not selling or offering what you offer, that SEO strategy may not be the right match for you. If similar companies have been riding the top of Google for 10 years and you’re just starting, an honest assessment needs to be made about whether or not a plan could be formed to beat and exceed your competition.

If you’ve heard people suggesting that including SEO content on your website is a thing of the past, they’re wrong – in fact, SEO is really kind of a hot commodity, especially coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s never been dead, but it’s evolved and changed. As Google gets more sophisticated it’s their job to try to pick naturally the very best websites for a given search or a particular question and to not give in to the scammers or the spammers and not pick the sites that have just gamed the system.

The strategic research at Alison’s company, WSI, begins with a comprehensive questionnaire for clients before contracting with them. She can create a personalized marketing plan that fits the unique needs of your company.

Domain Authority

Though it’s a technical process that can be overwhelming, domain authority, which is represented by a search engine ranking score, is important because it helps you determine if your SEO efforts are working.

Digital marketing experts need to stay updated on the methods Google uses to choose which websites get on the first page. It’s a sophisticated algorithm with hundreds of factors, and it’s private to Google. Engineers and other experts come up with these algorithms and they don’t tell you what they are so they can’t be easily replicated.

The day you buy a domain name and launch your website, Google is scoring the popularity and viability of your business. Scores range from zero to 100 and the age of your domain plays a part in your authority ranking. The search engine evaluates how popular your domain is and the most popular websites are given scores in the 50s and 60s.

One feature that Google examines is how many websites link to your website. When websites with a high domain authority link to your site it raises your score, passing some of their prestige to you. It’s a vote of confidence to link to you which is why, as a business owner, you want to develop relationships with other websites, particularly those with greater domain authority.

Marketing experts educate their clients about the process, and they know which websites are most reputable and have resources such as online directories to expand those relationships. There are numerous opportunities to share a link from your website including the Chamber of Commerce, a trade show, or a non-profit organization.

For a sizable domain authority score, Alison has advice for marketing small businesses:

  1. Technically sound website – Get a good webmaster. Google just implemented a performance part of the algorithm, which assesses how quickly a website loads, for instance. They gauge the length of time between clicks on people’s phones, and if your site has issues with its mobile performance, Google won’t rank you very high.
  2. Targeted areas of service – Choose the number of products or services you’re focusing on and create a page of content for each of those services, not one page for all services. To rank on SEO there needs to be content about each product or service and you need to build links to them.
  3. Publicizing consistently – If you’re a locally oriented company such as a restaurant or a dry cleaner, Google is seeing if your name, address, and phone number match your website and other online references to your business. It communicates to Google that you’re a credible, reputable company when it looks at business citations, your Yelp listing, directories, a Chamber of Commerce listing, and networking group online listings. Don’t use your 1-800 number or use an acronym.
  4. Google My Business – Sometimes referred to as GMB, it is a valuable citation offering organic exposure. When someone conducts a search for a local listing, Google My Business responds with a map, and it usually will feature only 3 businesses. You can pay to get your name to come up, but most results are found through an algorithm. Every business owner should input their business name and their city/state so potential clients and customers can find them. There’s a huge margin for targeted traffic – the number 1 listing gets almost one-third of all the clicks. If you’re number 10 you’re getting about 2.5 percent of the clicks.
  5. If in doubt, fill it out – Add everything Google asks you to put in your business profile. You may be able to include a photo, a video, a business description as well as your address. “Percent completed” is a factor in the algorithm.
  6. Five-Star Reviews – There’s also a place in GMB with FAQ’s which you don’t want to ignore. It’s a place where clients can review you, and when you get 5-star reviews it trips another algorithm plus. If you have reviews with 3 stars or less, however, you’re going to be negatively impacted.
  7. Turn in cheaters – If you’ve fallen to a lower position on Google Maps and you suspect one of the highest-ranking companies is bogus, report them. Sometimes a business whittles down the competition by creating another listing and calling it something like “best dry cleaner.” In the short term, Google rewards them. Sometimes it requires little time to turn in a spammer, but Alison has gone so far as to drive to the fake address and take a picture proving why the business should be removed.

Meet the Experts

Alison Lindemann – Digital Marketing

After 17 years in the corporate management world, Alison joined WSI Internet Consulting in 2004. She has a strong business background including 17 years with Farmers Insurance as the Director of Service Operations as well as Director of Sales in their corporate office in Los Angeles. She completed the Farmers Executive Training Program and was the recipient of their Management Excellence Award. Alison has expertise in both traditional and digital media, as well as strategic planning, competitor analysis, persona development, social media, customer experience, conversion optimization and particularly search engine optimization. Alison holds a BSBA degree from Washington University in St. Louis Olin Business School, and she holds the CPCU Designation, ARP Designation, and numerous digital marketing certifications. She has co-authored two books, one that was published in October 2019 and includes chapters from digital marketing experts worldwide. She is also the recipient of three Web Marketing Association Awards in 2019. She speaks regularly on digital marketing best practices and strategies.

Need a digital marketing consultant who can help you design and execute an effective new strategy? Contact Alison at WSI Internet Consulting for a consultation.

 Keep up with Alison on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Amanda Benson-Tilch – Small Business Consulting

While you may notice her first by her wit and second by her infectious sense of humor, the next thing you’ll learn about Amanda Benson-Tilch is: She’s a problem-solver. Owner and Growth Strategist of Ask Amanda Consulting, she offers the skills, tools, and network it takes to get the job done — no matter the task.

Working with each client differently, she helps identify blocks, present solutions, implement them, and execute. And if she can’t execute, she’ll connect you to someone who can. She’s helped past clients improve their branding, operations, customer service, marketing, company culture, and more. She’s organized a company-wide rebranding and restructuring after it was bought out. And she’s helped local small businesses increase their growth without increasing the headache. From consulting to full-scale project management, Amanda steps in to help your business level up with ease.

In addition to her work with Ask Amanda, she’s also the Director of Business Development for Thomas Realty Co., a property management company in Burbank, where she oversees the growth of select tenants. Currently, she’s serving as the Managing Director of both Burbank Fitness Club and Burbank Center Apartments. Over the last year, she helped completely rebrand, renovate, and rebuild the gym, and she recently started the same process with their luxury apartments.

Follow Amanda on Facebook and Instagram.

 About The Ask Amanda Show

On any given day, small business owners and entrepreneurs spend most of their time putting out fires, solving problems and asking themselves questions like: “How do I brand this? How do I reach more people online? Why can’t I break through my revenue ceiling and reach the next level of business?” They often feel like an island – holding it all together without support, clarity, or feedback they need to finally achieve their vision. That’s exactly why Amanda Benson-Tilch created The Ask Amanda Show. As a small business consultant, not only does she have the answers to the questions you keep asking, but she’s also created a podcast community that reminds you: You’re not alone in this journey.

Tune in once a month to get access to small business experts, nuggets of inspiration and answers to those burning questions preventing you from growth. Enjoy powerful guest interviews as Santa Clarita small business experts share their stories and provide actionable steps to help you grow your business. Whether you’re a business owner, aspiring entrepreneur, or someone looking to get more involved in your community, this is your show!

The Ask Amanda Show | Episode #6

If you’re an entrepreneur, then you know: You’re not an island – no matter how much time you spend trying to operate like one.
It’s one of the toughest lessons for business owners to learn.
As visionaries with big missions, we can’t accomplish all of our dreams without the right team of people to help us get there.
That’s why this conversation about building, growing and retaining a strong team is so crucial.

Don’t miss this powerful look at teamwork, as Amanda Benson-Tilch, host of The Ask Amanda Show, sits down with industry-leading fitness coach and consultant Rachel Cosgrove, who co-owns Results Fitness and Results University in Santa Clarita.

Together, Amanda and Rachel discuss the key decisions that helped Rachel build two successful teams. They also share their secrets to success in this comprehensive team-building guide that covers everything from hiring the right person, to growing and keeping them.

Let’s dive in.

Growing Results With The Right Team

The power of teamwork has driven Rachel’s business ventures from the very beginning. In fact, when Rachel and her husband, Alwyn Cosgrove, opened their gym, the industry approach to teamwork was one of the things they wanted to change. They got so good at it that today their second business teaches other fitness professionals to harness the power of teamwork through coaching, coursework and more.

Their two businesses are a perfect example of how you can grow your business with the power of teamwork.

Building Results Fitness

“Over 20 years ago, my husband and I opened Results Fitness to create a new standard in the fitness industry,” Rachel explained. “We had worked at a number of different gyms and been part of a number of different teams. So we pulled what we liked and learned from what we didn’t like.”

With their past experiences and future mission as their guide, the Cosgroves set out to build a gym that felt comfortable and gave people a great experience, even if that meant doing things a little differently.

“We wanted to change the way fitness is done – for our clients and for our team,” Rachel explained. “We knew we wanted to do that from the beginning.”

They didn’t just want to change the way their team worked; they wanted to change the way the world saw their team … and the industry altogether.

“Twenty-five years ago, there wasn’t a career in fitness, and now it’s a career path. That’s really exciting. And that was part of our vision as we built Results Fitness,” Rachel explained. “At the time, personal training wasn’t taken seriously. It wasn’t a ‘real job,’ but we wanted to give them a career. We wanted our team to set a new standard for the professionals in our industry.”

And that they did.

In fact, they got so good at it that they eventually opened a coaching business to teach other fitness professionals to do just that.

Building Results University 

“Every business comes out of a solution to a problem,” Rachel explained. “We started getting a lot of other fitness trainers reaching out to us and asking how we’re running our business and if they could come and watch.”

Rather than being afraid of the competition, the Cosgroves recognized an opportunity and turned it into a business. Today, Results Fitness University teaches other fitness professionals how to run a successful business using the same principles the Cosgroves put into practice with Results Fitness.

“It grew out of our first business. We started speaking at conferences, consulting, and really building a name for ourselves in the industry,” Rachel explained.

Once again, their team was vital in their second business.

“Getting that first key person on your team is so important,” Rachel explained. “We hired an administrative manager, and getting her on board was a game-changer for us. She’s still with us after 21 years.”

How To Hire The Right Person

Hire For Your Weaknesses

“A lot of people make the mistake of hiring someone who’s just like you as your first employee. If you’re a personal trainer, the first thing you do is hire another personal trainer. But pretty soon, you get stuck doing all the stuff you’re not good at – and you don’t like it. Really, you’re better off in your sweet spot,” Rachel explained.

Many entrepreneurs make their first hire based on their own strengths, when they should really be hiring based on their own weaknesses.

“We made that mistake. I found myself in the office calling people whose credit cards had been declined, while our trainers were out on the floor having fun,” Rachel said with a laugh. “I was doing an entry-level job, while I could be billing at a much higher rate if I was working in my area of strength, as a personal trainer.”

Before you hire your next person, first figure out where you need to be in your business to make the most money and have fun. Then find the people you need to support you in that role. It’s going to be someone who’s good at things you’re not good at.

Identify & Own Your Core Values

The first step to finding and hiring the right person for the job is to know what you’re looking for. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial to identify your core values.

What do you stand for? What does your company stand for? What’s the mission of your business and your team?

If you can’t answer those questions clearly and definitely, then you won’t be able to identify those traits in the person who applies for the job either.

As Rachel says: “A successful business runs off of your core values.”

Here are three tips to creating powerful and authentic core values:

1. Put some heart into it.

This is not one of those business exercises that you can check off your list and stick it in a drawer somewhere. For your core values to work, they have to mean something to you. They have to set the course for success, by your definition.

So do what you need to do to create a list of core values that actually resonate with you. If that means you invite your friends and mentors over for wine and brainstorming, then do it. If it means you reach out to your network with some questions, do that. If you just need an hour of uninterrupted time and a view from the front porch, then give yourself that moment.

Remember: You actually have to use them to direct and manage every aspect of your business. So mean it.

2. Make it a team effort.

Once you have your core list, you might want to consider opening that list up to the existing members of your team.

When the Cosgroves asked their team, a personal trainer with 15 years under his belt suggested: “Be we not me.” It was so good that they still use that core value in daily conversation at the gym.

“Invite your team to be part of it, so that list of core values is ours,” Rachel explained. “Then they take ownership of it, too.”

3. Make them memorable.

“All of our core values are very short and memorable,” Rachel said.

Why? It’s easier to incorporate them into every aspect of business if you can remember them all first.

To help your team remember your core values, use them whenever you can: on the wall, on your website, as part of your team language, even in team meetings. The Cosgroves focus on one core value during each team meeting to make sure the conversation is top-of-mind and constant.

Turn Values Into Culture

Once you have your core values in place, you can use them to guide your company culture, from your hiring process to your management to your leadership skills.

1. Let them guide your hiring process

“Our entire hiring process is designed to see if you share our same core values, and if you’ll fit well with our culture,” Rachel explained. “I don’t actually care whether you can do the job from the very beginning. I care if you have the right attitude, share our core values and will fit in well with our team.”

For both businesses, the Cosgroves’ hiring process and interview questions are designed around their core values.

“For example, one of our core values is: Have fun and a sense of humor. So one of our interview questions is: Tell me a joke,” Rachel said with a laugh. “Sometimes it really catches them off guard and they freeze. So we’ll tell them a joke and see how they respond to the whole situation. We’ve even had people email us afterward with a really funny joke.”

Though it might seem unconventional, this approach helps the Cosgroves clearly understand one thing: Does this person fit with our company culture? Can they help us accomplish our mission?

“Once we got our core values dialed in – and built our hiring process and interview questions around that – it was a game-changer,” Rachel explained. “Then you get the right people on board, and they understand who we are and what we expect right up front.”

2. Let them guide your team.

Once you’ve hired someone who shares your core values, it’s crucial to manage them with the same guiding principles.

“We joke that we speak in ‘core value-ese.’” Rachel said with a laugh. “Any decision or question that comes up, we answer it with a core value. It becomes part of the language and creates a sense of ownership. Everyone becomes invested in making the team and the culture as great as it can be. So the team starts to manage itself because they know their core values match the culture from the very beginning.”

3. Let them guide your leadership.

If you ask your team to work by a set of core values, it’s crucial that your leadership and work ethic reflect those same core values. Leading by example is mandatory for this to work.

“You have to be the exemplary example of your core values,” Rachel explained. “You can’t have core values and not live by them. As a leader, you have to take total ownership.”

How To Grow The Right People

Systematize To Grow

A happy, growing team is not a frustrated one. If you want to harness the power of teamwork to grow your business, your systems and processes have to support your team. They can’t perform their best if they’re not given the best support. Otherwise, it works against both of you.

“It’s happened to all of us before. You hire a team, and you still end up doing all the things,” Rachel said. “Why? We’re entrepreneurs, and we want to be in control of what we’re creating.

The easiest and quickest way to solve that is with systems.”

You have to have systems in your business if your team is going to operate well without you. That’s why every system and process should be broken down into a series of: checklists, templates and/or scripts.

“For example, if a team member comes up to me because they don’t know how to cancel someone’s membership, that means I don’t have a system in place. So as I’m teaching them how to cancel a membership, I’m creating a checklist. That way, next time, the system is already in place. Then, as you’re talking to the customer who wants to cancel their membership, write down what you’re saying to create a script. And on it goes.”

Any problem or situation that you find yourself being repeatedly brought into needs a system of checklists, templates and scripts.

“If you create one system a week in your business, you’ll have 52 new systems after a year. That will get you to the point where you don’t have to be there – and it will still run – because you have systems in place.”

How To Retain The Right People

1. Give Them A Mission

“In the book ‘Good to Great,’ Jim Collins talks about getting your team on board your company bus, which is moving toward a mission. I’ve always used that analogy because, when you have really good visuals, it can be very powerful for people,” Rachel shared.

The bus can be an analogy that becomes part of the language and culture – but it needs a mission.

“At Results Fitness, everyone is on the bus heading toward the mission of changing the way fitness is done. Everyone has a different seat on the bus, but sometimes those seats can change. And new seats will open up.”

Once the team understands the analogy, it can make tough conversations clearer because everyone is communicating from a place of shared understanding.

“If I feel like someone is drifting away from the mission, all I have to say is: ‘I feel like you’re kind of looking out the window. Do we need to pull the bus over? Is everything ok?’ Right away, they understand and can say: ‘No, I want to be on the bus.’ And we’re back on the same page.”

And it all comes back to the shared mission.

“If you don’t give them a mission, they’ll come in, clock in, clock out, and stay a while. But eventually, they’ll leave because they’re not a part of something,” Rachel explained. “If you show them they’re contributing to a bigger mission, they’re going to be with you as long as they can be.”

2. Share Your Vision

Once you’ve figured out your core values and given the team a mission, you need to give them a clear picture of how you’re going to get there. And keep them updated on their progress.

“They know the shared mission. Now they need to know the shared vision,” Rachel explained. “How are we going to get there?”

This means sharing your goals and updating the team on your progress. Make this a regular part of team meetings.

Again, your systems are important here, too. Proper systems give your team a clear, achievable process to follow, so they’re set up for success. They have everything they need to share your vision and help you get there.

3. Discuss Compensation Together

Once your team is on the bus riding toward their mission, and has clear directions for how to get there, they need to feel like it’s an equitable exchange. It’s time to have the compensation discussion.

“Obviously, part of hiring and retaining good people is paying them. It has to be enough for them to pay their bills and live the life they want to live,” Rachel explained. “That’s definitely a discussion you need to have with each team member. Ask them: Where do we need to be so you’re not worried about money?”

If a team member is worried about money, they’ll have a hard time focusing – and they’ll likely be looking elsewhere.

“You have to look at your resources and figure out what you can afford, but once you figure that out, then you can have the conversation together.”

4. Motivate With Rewards Not Incentives

With a solid foundation for your team, the next step is to maintain motivation. Rachel suggests motivating your team with surprise rewards rather than incentivized programs. Her strategies are based on lots of research including a favorite book, “Drive” by Daniel Pink.

“There’s a lot of research around dangling a carrot and if it actually works,” Rachel explained. “They found that having an incentive is actually a distraction. Instead of having a team that’s focused on the mission, now they’re focused on the carrot.”

Instead, the Cosgroves motivate their team with unexpected celebrations and rewards.

“If you know your team well enough, you can do something personal. Does your team love Disney? Take them all to Disneyland. Stuff like that means the most to them. So talk to them to find out what’s important.”

5. Make Team Building Meaningful

Finally, one of the best ways to grow and retain a good team is to simply have fun together. Create team building experiences that are fun and meaningful by getting to know your team. You can also create opportunities to get involved in the community together. Results Fitness will occasionally host fundraisers, or they’ll form a team in local races.

“We do a lot of mud runs and local races as a team. We train for them together and run them together,” Rachel explained. “We figure out a shared interest and bring everyone together that way.”

Meet the Experts

Rachel Cosgrove – Fitness Coach & Consultant

For over 20 years, Rachel Cosgrove has been the co-owner/operator of Results Fitness, a gym she owns with her husband, Alwyn Cosgrove. Together, they lead their team on a mission to change the way fitness is done. The gym has quadrupled in size since it opened and was voted one of the top 10 gyms in the United States by Men’s Health Magazine three years in a row.

Rachel also works full time in their second business Results University, a business consulting firm where they help entrepreneurs create successful businesses. She’s made her mark on the industry by authoring two books – ”Drop Two Sizes” and “The Female Body Breakthrough” – and writing for numerous professional publications including Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Precision Nutrition and more. Rachel is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Ready to commit to your fitness in an environment that understands teamwork from every angle? Check out the gym and meet the team at Results Fitness with this special offer

Keep up with Rachel on Facebook and Instagram, or visit her at results-fitness.com.

Amanda Benson-Tilch – Small Business Consulting

While you may notice her first by her wit and second by her infectious sense of humor, the next thing you’ll learn about Amanda Benson-Tilch is: She’s a problem-solver. Owner and Growth Strategist of Ask Amanda Consulting, she offers the skills, tools and network it takes to get the job done — no matter the task.

Working with each client differently, she helps identify blocks, present solutions, implement them, and execute. And if she can’t execute, she’ll connect you to someone who can. She’s helped past clients improve their branding, operations, customer service, marketing, company culture, and more. She’s organized a company-wide rebranding and restructuring after it was bought out. And she’s helped local small businesses increase their growth without increasing the headache. From consulting to full-scale project management, Amanda steps in to help your business level up with ease.

In addition to her work with Ask Amanda, she’s also the Director of Business Development for Thomas Realty Co., a property management company in Burbank, where she oversees the growth of select tenants. Currently, she’s serving as the Managing Director of both Burbank Fitness Club and Burbank Center Apartments. Over the last year, she helped completely rebrand, renovate and rebuild the gym, and she recently started the same process with their luxury apartments.

Follow Amanda on Facebook and Instagram.

About The Ask Amanda Show

On any given day, small business owners and entrepreneurs spend most of their time putting out fires, solving problems and asking themselves questions like: “How do I brand this? How do I reach more people online? Why can’t I break through my revenue ceiling and reach the next level of business?” They often feel like an island – holding it all together without support, clarity or feedback they need to finally achieve their vision. That’s exactly why Amanda Benson-Tilch created The Ask Amanda Show. As a small business consultant, not only does she have the answers to the questions you keep asking, but she’s also created a podcast community that reminds you: You’re not alone in this journey.

Tune in once a month to get access to small business experts, nuggets of inspiration and answers to those burning questions preventing you from growth. Enjoy powerful guest interviews as Santa Clarita small business experts share their stories and provide actionable steps to help you grow your business. Whether you’re a business owner, aspiring entrepreneur, or someone looking to get more involved in your community, this is your show!

The Ask Amanda Show | Episode #5

Whether you’re raising a family, business or nonprofit, it’s crucial to give back with intention if we want to set a good example for those around us.

That’s why Amanda Benson-Tilch, host of The Ask Amanda Show, sat down with philanthropy expert and consultant Michelle Rey, owner and founder of Power of Philanthropy (POP).

Together, Amanda and Michelle discuss the importance of philanthropy in the home, office, and boardroom – plus they share their best tips, tricks, and stories for building successful relationships at each level of philanthropic work.

Let’s dive in.

Philanthropy Starts in the Home

“Philanthropy starts in the home with the decision to raise children who are caring individuals toward everyone, regardless of where they come from, what their background is, or anything else,” Michelle explained. “That’s what it means to our family.”

Once you make the decision to make philanthropy one of your core family values, the next step is to simply lead by example.

“It starts with the realization that your actions are being witnessed and mirrored by your children,” Michelle explained. “They are watching everything you do, and if you make philanthropy a focus in your life, they will pick up on that, too.”

How do you bring philanthropy into focus in your own home? Start with Michelle’s simple tips.

Tips for Raising Philanthropic Children

  • Be intentional about how you share your time. Lead by example.
  • Be vocal when you get involved. Share your experiences.
  • Let them see you give back – your kids will take notice.
  • Explain the why behind your everyday acts of kindness.
  • Demonstrate that you don’t have to be wealthy to be giving. Pull up your sleeves!

Philanthropy for Small Businesses

“Whether you’re a small business or large corporation, giving back should be a line item on your budget,” Amanda said. “It’s good for the community, and it’s good for business – win-win.”

While nonprofits always appreciate a donation, they also value building relationships and lasting engagement.

In fact, giving back financially is just one way businesses can get involved. Especially if your philanthropy budget is tight, business owners can create employee engagement programs. Some companies might give employees 16 or 24 hours of time for volunteer work each year, while others might provide rewards for time spent volunteering. It can be something as simple as a $5 gift card for coffee – or an extra vacation day if they accumulate a certain amount of hours.

“These are great ways to help support your employees’ passions while also helping your brand become more engaged with the community,” Amanda said.

Tips for Building a Philanthropic Small Business:

  • It starts at the top. Encouraging philanthropy in the office is a lot like how you would start philanthropy in the home: The parent-figure, or manager, has to say: “We’re going to volunteer, and we would love it if you did, too.”
  • Provide incentives. Financially, you can match employee gifts, dollar-for-dollar or 2-for-1, or you can incentivize milestones of volunteer time with small gift cards or free lunch or vacation day.
  • Share about it. Don’t forget to let the community know you’re getting involved and why you’re doing it. It’s not about bragging that you gave away money; it’s about making a statement to the community about who you support, what you stand for and why.

Find the Right Nonprofit To Get Started

If you need a little help figuring out how to get started, take a look at the local nonprofits in your area. It’s about finding the right one for you – and then seeing how you can help.

  • Start with your mission. Take a look at your core values, mission statement and vision statement. Research the organizations in your area, and try to find a close match that also inspires a spark of passion.
  • Do your due diligence. Every nonprofit has a 990 form, which discloses how they spend their money. Most are available online.
  • Go with your passion. When you find a nonprofit with a mission that’s aligned with yours, you’ll feel the biggest reward from your volunteer work. When you make the final choice, go with the one that fills you up the most.

Philanthropy in the Boardroom

Like love languages, everyone has a different philanthropy language.

“Everyone gives their best when they’re engaging their strengths,” Michelle explained. “That’s why it’s so important to help both board members and volunteers find their philanthropy language.”

How do you encourage your team to tap into their strengths and discover their favorite ways to give? It all starts with Michelle’s top tips for board members and volunteers.

Building a Strong Nonprofit Board

“The most important and influential relationships in a nonprofit are the board members, major gift donors and management. Your board members represent the health of the organization and are essential to its success,” Michelle explained. “You must involve your board members in some stage of the philanthropic process. It’s all about information, communication and engagement.”

Philanthropy Process: 7 Stages of Solicitation

One of the best ways to engage your board is to find out which stage of the ask each board member feels most comfortable with. Their interest might even change over time, so it’s important to stay engaged and continue the conversation.

  1. Identification: identifying individuals to engage
  2. Research: researching your candidates
  3. Cultivation: building the relationships
  4. Planning: proposing personal giving plans
  5. Solicitation: making the ask
  6. Stewardship: saying thank you, showing the good work of the organization
  7. Repeat: get ready to repeat the process

3 Common Board Member Fears

It’s important to remember that board members are humans just like us, and that means they have some pretty common and understandable fears. One of the best ways to support them, beyond finding their strengths, is helping them work through those fears.

Some of the most common philanthropy fears are the fears of rejection, begging and reciprocity. We face these feelings all the time, but board members face those feelings in an amplified way when they make the ask.

  1. Begging: feeling judged or pressured
  2. Rejection: feeling worried they’ll say no
  3. Reciprocity: feeling like you owe something in return

To help your board members identify and work through these fears, try offering ways to reframe each one. For example, begging can be reframed as inviting someone to be a part of a purpose. You can see rejection as discovery: A ‘no’ can simply be a ‘not right now,’ or an opportunity to get involved in a different way. Finally, they can look at reciprocity as the natural give and take of relationship building – instead of feeling like they’re stuck in obligation.

2 Critical Board Member Mistakes

While building a strong board is vital, being a valuable board member is equally important. From a board member perspective, there are two cardinal mistakes you can make.

  1. One of the biggest mistakes a board member can make is signing up to have their name listed on the board – but they don’t actually contribute any of their time, talents or treasures.
  2. The second biggest mistake is not giving. As a marker of the health of the organization, it’s crucial to have 100% board participation when it comes to giving.

Building a Strong Volunteer Base

Building a strong volunteer base is also a vital factor for the success of an organization. And it’s always best when there’s a real connection between the volunteer and the organization’s mission or purpose.

“When my son was 4 months old, he had to have his skull reconstructed,” Michelle shared. “Cranio Care Bears sends care packages to babies who are about to have surgery for craniosynostosis, and it costs the family nothing. So this beautiful care package just showed up to our room with toys, pajamas and rattlers, as well as toiletries and snacks for Mom and Dad.” Michelle continued: “They did something for us during a really difficult time in our family, so today, we love to give back to them. I’ll do anything for them in a heartbeat because I care about what they’re doing. It made a difference in my life, so there’s a strong connection there.”

3 Ways To Be a Good Volunteer

  1. Be honest with yourself about how much you have to give and how you want to give.
  2. Choose an organization that you have a personal connection to, from its mission to its programs. If you have a personal connection, your work will feel so much easier and more rewarding.
  3. Volunteer around your strengths. Try to choose activities based on your personal gifts.

The Bottom Line

The part of the brain that lights up when you receive a gift also lights up when you give a gift.

“That’s why it actually feels good to give,” Michelle explained.

“So go do good, people!” Amanda added.

Meet the Experts

Michelle Rey – Philanthropy Consultant

Michelle Rey is the owner and founder of POP – The Power of Philanthropy. As a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), she has met requirements including 3 years of professional fieldwork, at least $1.4 million in fundraising, a certain amount of hours of professional development and a final exam. She is one of only 7,000 CFRE professionals in the world, and she’s Santa Clarita’s very own nonprofit matchmaker.

With expertise in nonprofit fundraising and corporate giving, Michelle Rey is uniquely positioned to understand both sides of a powerful philanthropic relationship. She helps nonprofits find givers, and givers find purpose. In the process, she develops a lasting partnership that makes a difference for everyone. As the founder of Santa Clarita’s brightest nonprofit consultancy firm, she connects the nonprofit and for-profit worlds by showing everyone the Power of Philanthropy (POP) by Michelle Rey.

Need guidance for your nonprofit’s development? Need help structuring an employee giving program? Book a complimentary consultation with Michelle Rey to discover your goals and create a plan to achieve them.

Keep up with Michelle on Facebook and LinkedIn, or visit her at popwithmichelle.com.

Amanda Benson-Tilch – Small Business Consulting

While you may notice her first by her wit and second by her infectious sense of humor, the next thing you’ll learn about Amanda Benson-Tilch is: She’s a problem-solver. Owner and Growth Strategist of Ask Amanda Consulting, she offers the skills, tools and network it takes to get the job done — no matter the task.

Working with each client differently, she helps identify blocks, present solutions, implement them, and execute. And if she can’t execute, she’ll connect you to someone who can. She’s helped past clients improve their branding, operations, customer service, marketing, company culture, and more. She’s organized a company-wide rebranding and restructuring after it was bought out. And she’s helped local small businesses increase their growth without increasing the headache. From consulting to full-scale project management, Amanda steps in to help your business level up with ease.

In addition to her work with Ask Amanda, she’s also the Director of Business Development for Thomas Realty Co., a property management company in Burbank, where she oversees the growth of select tenants. Currently, she’s serving as the Managing Director of both Burbank Fitness Club and Burbank Center Apartments. Over the last year, she helped completely rebrand, renovate and rebuild the gym, and she recently started the same process with their luxury apartments.

Follow Amanda on Facebook and Instagram.

About The Ask Amanda Show

On any given day, small business owners and entrepreneurs spend most of their time putting out fires, solving problems and asking themselves questions like: “How do I brand this? How do I reach more people online? Why can’t I break through my revenue ceiling and reach the next level of business?” They often feel like an island – holding it all together without support, clarity or feedback they need to finally achieve their vision. That’s exactly why Amanda Benson-Tilch created The Ask Amanda Show. As a small business consultant, not only does she have the answers to the questions you keep asking, but she’s also created a podcast community that reminds you: You’re not alone in this journey.

Tune in once a month to get access to small business experts, nuggets of inspiration and answers to those burning questions preventing you from growth. Enjoy powerful guest interviews as Santa Clarita small business experts share their stories and provide actionable steps to help you grow your business. Whether you’re a business owner, aspiring entrepreneur, or someone looking to get more involved in your community, this is your show!

The Ask Amanda Show | Episode #4

Creating a personal brand – one that showcases your personality, skills and beautiful face – is one of the most engaging and effective ways to capture the attention of your digital audience. But for many of us, it’s hard to step in front of the camera to create photos and video content that puts us in the spotlight. What most people don’t know, however, is that it’s totally possible to create high-quality visual content that showcases your brand value and makes you feel good.

That’s why Amanda Benson-Tilch, host of The Ask Amanda Show, recently sat down with the business-minded photographer Lindsay Schlick, co-owner of the Santa Clarita visual marketing company, SchlickArt Photography and Video.

Together, Amanda and Lindsay discuss the importance of visual marketing in a digital world, how consumer behaviors are changing, and how you can grow your business with the same simple strategies SchlickArt used to build it’s lasting local brand.

Let’s dive in.

What’s Visual Marketing?

Visual marketing is a segment of marketing that has grown rapidly over the years, and it includes the visual elements of a brand:

  • Logo
  • Website
  • Graphics
  • Marketing Materials
  • Banners & Signage
  • Photography
  • Video
  • And more …

“These pieces are so key when it comes to marketing in today’s world,” Lindsay explained. “So much of business is conducted online, and it’s predominantly a visual experience. That’s why it’s vital to create a consistent and professional visual brand if you want to remain relevant.”

At SchlickArt Photography & Video, Owners Brian and Lindsay Schlick are a video/photographer team who specialize in visual marketing for small businesses in Santa Clarita. When it comes to marketing photography and video, they have a few tips on what to create first.

Marketing Photography

When it comes to visual marketing, your photography should be as professional as possible. Yes, it’s great to have those candid moments to add personality and spontaneity to your digital presence – to add rawness when appropriate. But the foundation of your photography should be professional, branded and as engaging as possible.

Not sure how to capture your brand? These classic and versatile shots are a great place to start:

  • Professional portraits (headshots) of each team member
  • Group portraits for the executive team and entire staff
  • Location photography of the interior and exterior of your offices
  • Lifestyle portraits of you working in the office, in the field or with clients
  • Lifestyle portraits of your team collaborating
  • Lifestyle portraits of you in your day-to-day routine
  • And more …

Marketing Video

The same general rules apply for marketing video. Yes, you want some live video, as well as some candid clips, to create variety among your visuals. But the majority of your video – especially the foundational pieces – should be as professionally produced as possible.

This is especially true if you’re uncomfortable on camera or overly critical of your performance. The right lighting and editing can make all the difference when it comes to building on-camera confidence, and after all, without confidence, you’re much less likely to stick to it.

To get you started, here are a few foundational marketing videos we suggest for any small business in Santa Clarita:

  • Introduction – Tell your story
  • Your Why – Why you started your business
  • Your Services – What you do and how you do it
  • Your Unique Value Proposition – Why they should choose you over the competition
  • FAQs – Answer your most common consumer questions
  • Testimonials – Let others do the talking for you
  • And more …

BONUS: Check out The SchlickArt Blog for a comprehensive Visual Content Strategy.

How Consumer Behaviors Are Changing Visual Marketing Practices

We live in a world where everything is moving so fast. Life and business happen online, and the digital world is updating quicker than we can keep up with. Today, nearly all of our communications with leads and clients are conducted through screens.

Then 2020 happened. And overnight, we evolved five years. Digital marketing is not going away. It has become increasingly more common and important throughout the pandemic, and it’s not going to take a backseat as the world opens up again. Our behaviors have changed.

You can no longer ignore the move to digital because it’s already here. Every brand must have a strong, consistent and engaging digital presence to remain relevant in today’s market.

Here are the consumer behaviors we’re noticing – and how you can expect them to affect the visual and digital marketing spaces.

From Convenience to Qualification

Before business was digital, there were fewer choices, and most day-to-day purchasing decisions were based on location and proximity. Today, however, consumers have the ability to do extensive research into products, services and brands before they buy. They want to make sure they’re going with the right brand, one that aligns with their values and needs.

“People are looking for answers online,” Amanda explained. “They’re looking for information and solutions that are the best fit for them. That’s why it’s so crucial to have branded, helpful visual marketing that engages your customers and keeps them on your website and social media longer.”

From Stock to Personalized

Even a few years ago, small businesses could get away with using generic or stock images to fill space when they needed a photo for social media or an email blast. Very few brands had personalized, authentic marketing photography and video of their business.

“You can’t get away with stock photography anymore,” Lindsay explained. “You’re misrepresenting your brand.”

If you own a boutique hotel, for example, and post a stock photo of a pool area, your guests are going to expect that exact pool area. That may have been the reason they booked with you in the first place. Right off the bat, your brand did not deliver on its promise.

From Sales to Storytelling

“Marketing has changed drastically over the years. The in-your-face ‘buy me now’ approach to marketing doesn’t work the way it used to – because people don’t want to be sold to anymore,” Lindsay explained. “We’re almost immune to it now.”

Telling someone’s story, however, speaks volumes. As people and as consumers, we love to listen to a good story.

“Think about how many stories you hear about a small business owner or a large corporation with a philanthropic mission,” Lindsay continued. “We listen to these stories all the time, and we love them – how their business works, how they got started, their professional experience, their challenges and victories. It’s how we get to know, like and trust a business through visuals.”

Get the Most From Your Visual Marketing

Once you have a clear understanding of visual marketing and how the latest trends might affect your market, it’s time to start producing excellent visual content. Here are our top tips for visual marketing that captivates.

Stop Hiding From Your Brand.

“Some of the most common fears we hear are: ‘I’m not photogenic.’ ‘I hate the way I look on camera.’ ‘What if I sound dumb?’” Lindsay shared. “But most people don’t realize that it’s bigger than that fear.”

In a world where content is king and digital is queen, business owners and professionals can no longer avoid the marketing spotlight. Effective strategies now require that you put yourself out there. That’s why the task of creating visual content for your brand is bigger than your fear about being on camera.

“We’re so busy with running the business that we bury ourselves and hide away from the world, thinking that it’s ok,” Lindsay said. “But if you don’t put yourself out there, you’re not adding anything to your brand – you’re invisible in the marketplace.”

Proudly Represent Your Brand.

“What’s the number one thing that’s missing from most brands today? YOU,” Lindsay shared.
Personal branding – adding you to your marketing – is a huge part of doing business online and in person. You give your brand personality. You make it memorable.

“You are your brand, and when it doesn’t truly look and feel like you, you’re discounting your brand,” Amanda explained. “If your potential customer can’t recognize you from looking at your visual marketing – either because it’s 10 years old or it’s off brand – then that could be a missed connection.”

Embrace Video.

“You can’t avoid video,” Amanda stated. “83% of marketers who have used video said it helped with lead generation and led directly to sales. That’s huge, you guys!”

The beauty of video is that it solves a lot of common problems in a very powerful way. It’s extremely engaging. It’s versatile enough for all your platforms. And it’s an impressive, polished way to share information with your team or your customers.

Video marketing remains one of the most powerful, engaging and effective uses of your marketing dollars. When one of the few ways to communicate with your customer base is through a screen, you might as well give them something good to look at, right?

“By hearing someone share their own story, you learn so much about that person,” Lindsay explained. “You really get to understand a professional’s depth of knowledge, and it creates a lasting sense of authority for a brand or professional.”

Meet the Experts

Lindsay Schlick – Visual Marketing 

As the Lead Photographer and Co-owner of SchlickArt Photography and Video, Lindsay Schlick’s eye for beauty is only matched by her mind for business. After leaving her hometown in Lancashire, England, Lindsay got her start as a photographer aboard Princess Cruise ships, where she met her future husband and business partner, Brian Schlick. In 2012, the lovebirds launched SchlickArt, a boutique media company in Santa Clarita. From that moment on, Lindsay has been dedicated to growing a community-driven business that makes people feel good. And the community has recognized her efforts. Lindsay has been awarded the Entrepreneur Award by the SCV Business Journal, the Ultimate Photographer Award by élite Magazine, Santa Clarita’s Best Photographer by The Signal and more.

Need to update your headshots and create visuals that make you look as good as you feel? The first 20 people to contact Lindsay at SchlickArt Photography & Video – and use the code AskAmandaSchlickArt10 – will receive 10% off a headshots purchase.

Keep up with Lindsay on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Amanda Benson-Tilch – Small Business Consulting

While you may notice her first by her wit and second by her infectious sense of humor, the next thing you’ll learn about Amanda Benson-Tilch is: She’s a problem-solver. Owner and Growth Strategist of Ask Amanda Consulting, she offers the skills, tools and network it takes to get the job done — no matter the task.

Working with each client differently, she helps identify blocks, present solutions, implement them, and execute. And if she can’t execute, she’ll connect you to someone who can. She’s helped past clients improve their branding, operations, customer service, marketing, company culture, and more. She’s organized a company-wide rebranding and restructuring after it was bought out. And she’s helped local small businesses increase their growth without increasing the headache. From consulting to full-scale project management, Amanda steps in to help your business level up with ease.

In addition to her work with Ask Amanda, she’s also the Director of Business Development for Thomas Realty Co., a property management company in Burbank, where she oversees the growth of select tenants. Currently, she’s serving as the Managing Director of both Burbank Fitness Club and Burbank Center Apartments. Over the last year, she helped completely rebrand, renovate and rebuild the gym, and she recently started the same process with their luxury apartments.

Follow Amanda on Facebook and Instagram.

About The Ask Amanda Show

On any given day, small business owners and entrepreneurs spend most of their time putting out fires, solving problems and asking themselves questions like: “How do I brand this? How do I reach more people online? Why can’t I break through my revenue ceiling and reach the next level of business?” They often feel like an island – holding it all together without support, clarity or feedback they need to finally achieve their vision. That’s exactly why Amanda Benson-Tilch created The Ask Amanda Show. As a small business consultant, not only does she have the answers to the questions you keep asking, but she’s also created a podcast community that reminds you: You’re not alone in this journey.

Tune in once a month to get access to small business experts, nuggets of inspiration and answers to those burning questions preventing you from growth. Enjoy powerful guest interviews as Santa Clarita small business experts share their stories and provide actionable steps to help you grow your business. Whether you’re a business owner, aspiring entrepreneur, or someone looking to get more involved in your community, this is your show!

The Ask Amanda Show | Episode #3

Consistency is a muscle we all need to develop, especially as business owners. Your brand is built upon your ability to remain consistent – in your products/services, your customer experience, your promise and your results.

As a brand, one of the best ways to communicate your consistency, reliability and trustworthiness is to develop a strong foundation for your brand identity.

By defining the look and feel of your brand, you will always have a set of guidelines to return to. It gives your team and your marketing partners firm ground to stand on as they help you share your brand with the world.

That’s why Amanda Benson-Tilch, host of The Ask Amanda Show, recently sat down with the super-talented Hillary Broadwater, owner of Santa Clarita’s full-service graphic design and branding firm, QM Design Group. Together, Amanda and Hillary outlined a strategy to establish a consistent brand identity. It all starts with a firm foundation – and a few tips from the experts.

Creating a Consistent Brand Identity

Your brand identity includes your logo, website, marketing materials, digital presence, verbal messaging, visual assets, original content and more. But the glue that holds all those pieces together – and creates one cohesive brand – is an intentional, well-designed foundation.

1. Know your brand promise.

A brand is a promise – the promise of what your customers and network will receive when they work with you.

When you’re creating your brand, the first question to ask yourself is: What does my brand promise? If your brand promises a happy, energetic, uplifting experience, then the look and feel of your visual content should match that. On the other hand, if your services are calming and clarifying, then your colors and fonts would be different.

Let your brand promise guide the look and feel of your marketing.

But don’t forget – once you make that promise, it’s your job to deliver. And that goes back to consistency.

“Consistency is your greatest asset here,” Hillary explained. “By changing the font in a flyer or adding a new color to your social media graphics, you’re creating inconsistencies.”

2. Map out your brand touch points.

A brand touch point is, as it sounds, any time a customer or potential customer comes in touch with your brand. This includes your customer experience, storefront, digital presence, marketing materials, original content and more. All of these moments say something about your brand.

Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • When a potential client visits your website or social media
  • If a new lead picks up a flyer or drives by a billboard
  • How the person at the front desk answers the phone
  • How the staff communicates a brand’s values
  • How the staff presents themselves with a logo, nametag or uniform
  • The perks your long-time clients receive

To design your client touch points with intention, map out a potential client’s journey from the beginning to end. Look at each interaction and ask yourself if you’re fulfilling your brand promise.

3. Create a style guide.

Once you know what you want to promise and how you’re going to fulfill that promise, it’s time to decide what that looks like. Your style guide is the foundation of that process.

“A style guide is a document that defines your brand and how it can be used,” Hillary explained. “It can be one page or 500 pages, depending on how much you want to include. It’s primary purpose is to create consistency across all your marketing pieces – so that no matter who you share your brand with, they have the guidelines needed to remain cohesive.”

Hillary always suggests using a simple trick to get started: When you lay out all your marketing pieces on the table, they should all look like they go together and come from the same family.

“That will set you up for success because you at least have visual consistency with the major branding pieces,” Hillary explained.

How To Use a Style Guide

Share your style guide with anyone who is involved in creating your brand. That could include the professionals/staff members who help create your:

  • Digital Marketing
  • Website
  • Social Media Content
  • Business Cards
  • Print Marketing
  • Signage
  • T-shirts
  • Nametags
  • Email Templates
  • Email Signatures
  • And the list goes on …

 A Basic Style Guide Includes:

For a small business of 1-10 people in size, Hillary suggests creating a basic style guide that includes:

  • Your logo, in all its formats and file types
  • How the logo can and cannot be used
  • Fonts, in all their weights and sizes
  • Color codes including CMYK (for print), RGB (for screens), HEX (for websites)

Expanded Style Guides Can Include:

Now, that covers only the visual brand. Some brands will even expand the style guide to include sections on the:

  • Verbal Brand – messaging, keywords, tone, writing style, etc.
  • Photography Guidelines – composition, color, crop, etc.
  • Templates – email, memos, call scripts, etc.

4. Develop a branded marketing campaign.

A campaign means your marketing is distributed across multiple platforms. That could include a brochure, direct mail piece, ad in a magazine, email blast, social media posts and more. You might run the campaign for 8 weeks and distribute each piece multiple times. With all those different aspects running at once, everything still needs to work together to achieve a common goal.

“You’re building brand recognition and awareness,” Hillary explained. “When people start to see your brand over and over again, in multiple different places, they’re going to recognize who you are.”

If your messaging is on target, it should get a response. The point of a marketing message, really, is to provoke the question: Do I need that? Will that product or service fix my problem or add to my life in a meaningful way?

5. Invest in a full-service design firm.

“One thing a lot of business owners don’t know to look for is a design firm that can do everything in one place,” Amanda explained. “A full-service graphic designer can create the foundation of your brand, and then any time you need something, they can create it easily, quickly and with very little of your time or energy.”

QM Design Group is a fantastic example.

“We’re turnkey; we handle everything from concept to completion,” Hillary explained. “You can come sit down with us, and we’ll design your logo. Then we turn that into a full brand identity with letterhead, business cards, brochures – whatever you need. We can also print it all for you and mail it for you.”

QM Design Group can create anything you can think of from the little things like pens and nametags to large-scale projects like full installations, trade show booths, canopies and more.

“The biggest benefit, really, is that it allows me to keep control of the project and the brand’s consistency,” Hillary explained. “I know the printers I work with personally. If it’s a big or complex job, I’ll personally go on press to oversee the job and make sure it’s consistent. We’ll do what we need to do to make sure it gets done – and it gets done correctly.”

Get a Brand Evaluation

The first step in creating, or recreating, a consistent brand identity is evaluating where you’re at right now. QM Design Group is offering a full brand evaluation to all Ask Amanda referrals.

Hillary will help you lay out all your marketing materials at once to see where the inconsistencies are, and together, you will create a plan for more consistency across the board.

Meet the Experts

Hillary Broadwater – Brand Identity

As President and Creative Director of QM Design Group, Hillary Broadwater has turned a passion for art into an award-winning graphic design and branding firm in Santa Clarita. Hillary’ earned her bachelor’s degree from Art Center College of Design and spent 10 years as Art Director for AIMS Multimedia, the leader in K–12 educational media. During this time, Hillary revitalized a classic brand – thoroughly updating the look and feel of the company’s marketing collateral. She went on to design for Discovery Education, a division of the Discovery Channel. Considered by her peers as one of the nation’s top graphic designers, Hillary’s objective is to assist clients in establishing a strong “visual voice” for their brands. She’s currently the Chairwoman of the Board of Directors for the Valley Industry Association (VIA) and is an active member of the American Advertising Federation (AAF), as well as Soroptimist of Greater Santa Clarita.

Need a full-service design firm that can help you design and execute a consistent brand identity? Contact Hillary at QM Design Group for a comprehensive brand evaluation.

Keep up with Hillary on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Amanda Benson-Tilch – Small Business Consulting

While you may notice her first by her wit and second by her infectious sense of humor, the next thing you’ll learn about Amanda Benson-Tilch is: She’s a problem-solver. Owner and Growth Strategist of Ask Amanda Consulting, she offers the skills, tools and network it takes to get the job done — no matter the task.

Working with each client differently, she helps identify blocks, present solutions, implement them, and execute. And if she can’t execute, she’ll connect you to someone who can. She’s helped past clients improve their branding, operations, customer service, marketing, company culture, and more. She’s organized a company-wide rebranding and restructuring after it was bought out. And she’s helped local small businesses increase their growth without increasing the headache. From consulting to full-scale project management, Amanda steps in to help your business level up with ease.

In addition to her work with Ask Amanda, she’s also the Director of Business Development for Thomas Realty Co., a property management company in Burbank, where she oversees the growth of select tenants. Currently, she’s serving as the Managing Director of both Burbank Fitness Club and Burbank Center Apartments. Over the last year, she helped completely rebrand, renovate and rebuild the gym, and she recently started the same process with their luxury apartments.

Follow Amanda on Facebook and Instagram.

About The Ask Amanda Show

On any given day, small business owners and entrepreneurs spend most of their time putting out fires, solving problems and asking themselves questions like: “How do I brand this? How do I reach more people online? Why can’t I break through my revenue ceiling and reach the next level of business?” They often feel like an island – holding it all together without support, clarity or feedback they need to finally achieve their vision. That’s exactly why Amanda Benson-Tilch created The Ask Amanda Show. As a small business consultant, not only does she have the answers to the questions you keep asking, but she’s also created a podcast community that reminds you: You’re not alone in this journey.

Tune in once a month to get access to small business experts, nuggets of inspiration and answers to those burning questions preventing you from growth. Enjoy powerful guest interviews as Santa Clarita small business experts share their stories and provide actionable steps to help you grow your business. Whether you’re a business owner, aspiring entrepreneur, or someone looking to get more involved in your community, this is your show!