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NaperLaunch Offers New Programs, Same Great Peer Learning and One-on-One Mentoring

With the new year comes some exciting new developments at NaperLaunch. In March, we’ll debut some updates to the format, schedule, and content of our programs. These changes reflect the latest evolution of our continued efforts to serve the needs of Naperville-area entrepreneurs and small business owners. While some of our programs may look different, our commitment to meeting business owners where they are remains the same. Here’s a look at what’s new, and what won’t change, at NaperLaunch in 2020.

What’s new?

To accommodate the increasing number of entrepreneurs interested in participating in the NaperLaunch Academy, as well as requests from established small business owners seeking opportunities to interact with their peers, we’re revamping our morning and evening programming:

Expanded NaperLaunch Academy offerings

Beginning in March with cohort 10, we will be running concurrent NaperLaunch Academy cohorts on two different nights, with staggered start dates. This will allow us to offer more cohorts per year, reducing wait time for prospective Academy participants. We’ve also consolidated our marketing series workshop content into a new NaperLaunch Academy course, Write a Strategic Marketing Plan, that offers attendees a comprehensive view of marketing rather than focusing on a single platform or tool. The current Academy cohort is the first to include the new course.

New master mind groups

Intended for businesses that are past the startup stage and actively producing revenue, master mind groups allow participants to gain insights from one another’s accumulated knowledge and experience. Group members will become intimately acquainted with the business models and plans of each participant. Expert advisors will also be on hand to add insights to the conversation in each meeting. Each master mind meeting will follow an agenda and each member of the group is expected to actively participate. Registration is ongoing; each group will be limited to 15 participants.

What hasn’t changed?

Serving the unique needs of individual entrepreneurs and small businesses is at the heart of everything we offer at NaperLaunch. In 2020, we will continue to meet our members where they are, offering opportunities for business owners at every stage to learn from the experience of their peers and from expert advisors. These include:

Peer learning opportunities

NaperLaunch will continue to offer a variety of ways for entrepreneurs at all stages of business development to learn from each other. These opportunities include monthly SCORE Business Roundtable discussions, moderated by volunteer mentors from SCORE Fox Valley and open to everyone, with no advance registration required, as well as bimonthly SCORE Women’s Business Roundtables, where women business owners, startups and entrepreneurs come together to discuss business challenges and opportunities through a mix of moderated open discussions as well as presentations on topics of interest to group members. In addition, our quarterly Pitch Sessions will continue to allow entrepreneurs to practice their pitch and get immediate feedback and coaching from peers. Registration is required to pitch; no registration is needed to observe and give feedback.

One-on-one mentoring

All of the programs and services offered at NaperLaunch are developed in partnership with Fox Valley SCORE. SCORE is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides free business mentoring services to entrepreneurs in the United States. SCORE mentors provide customized assistance to help start or grow a business. SCORE mentors hold office hours at NaperLaunch, participate in events, and accept appointments for individual mentoring sessions. Each NaperLaunch Academy student is assigned a SCORE mentor who works closely with them throughout the program.

In addition to business coaching from SCORE mentors, NaperLaunch members have access to Business Services librarians, who can provide an orientation to the library’s business resources, help with registering a corporation or limited liability company, and assist with researching industries and target markets.

We look forward to hearing what you think of the changes we’re making. Call or email us, interact with us on social media, or stop by the library and visit us in person.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020 - 1:00pm

Learn about Expanded NaperLaunch Academy Curriculum at Open House on Jan. 7th

Have you resolved to start a business in 2020? The NaperLaunch Academy can help you achieve your goal!

The NaperLaunch Academy is a free, 17-week business curriculum designed to help entrepreneurs develop fundamental business knowledge, improve salesmanship and leadership skills and learn the “lean startup process.” Through courses on business ideation, planning, marketing and sales, support from SCORE Mentors and all of the resources available at the Naperville Public Library, we empower entrepreneurs with everything they need to be successful.

New in 2020: The Academy curriculum will include a 4-week course on strategic marketing planning. Participants will use the Strategic Marketing Plan outline in the Gale Business: Plan Builder software to create a plan that includes goals, objectives, customer personas, customized messages and tactical plans.

The next NaperLaunch Academy Open House is at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 7 at the Nichols Library. This informal, interactive session is an opportunity for potential participants to ask questions and learn about the NaperLaunch Academy, its curriculum and class schedule. Attendees will receive guidance about the purpose of the academy, the expectations of participants and the intended learning outcomes. Get a preview of the academy and hear from past participants about the value they received from the academy as they started and expanded their businesses.

Stop by and see what the NaperLaunch Academy can do for your small business. Registration for the next cohort ends Friday, Jan. 10. Classes begin Tuesday, Jan. 14.

Thursday, December 12, 2019 - 12:30pm

The Power of the "Master Mind"

In the classic book Think and Grow Rich, author Napoleon Hill writes that power comes from accumulated knowledge and an individual can organize that knowledge and accumulate more of it and do so faster by taking advantage of the “master mind,” those persons who have mastered certain skills or processes and who possess superior subject matter knowledge. To access that powerful knowledge and thus move at a quicker pace toward certain objectives or successful endeavors, Hill recommends forming master mind groups, in which individuals gain insights from one another’s accumulated knowledge and experience.

Andrew Carnegie is an excellent example of someone who benefitted by engaging knowledgeable individuals who shared their insights, knowledge and lessons learned from experience. He retained 15 experienced and powerful individuals who were his advisers, partners and sounding board. In fact, Carnegie enlisted Hill to document how he had acquired so much wealth. The outcome of that engagement is the aforementioned book. Carnegie felt that this practice of listening to the “master minds” of his day was the primary reason he became one of the leading industrialists and philanthropists of his age.

This relatively simple process can be duplicated today by anyone willing to devote some time and energy to it. We at NaperLaunch want to help local business owners adopt this practice by sponsoring three master mind groups. Each group will meet monthly on Thursday mornings from 9:15 to 10:30 a.m. The groups will be formed by registration only and each group will meet on a different week of the month. Each group will be limited to 15 participants at a time; if one drops out, then another registrant may join. The group members will become intimately acquainted with the business models and plans of each participant. Expert advisers will also be on hand to add insights to the conversation in each meeting. Each master mind meeting will follow an agenda and each member of the group is expected to actively participate.

We anticipate fostering a bond of commitment and support among group participants as they learn from each other’s expertise. Most importantly, we believe in the concept of “peer learning.” The NaperLaunch community is built upon that principle.

To learn more about the NaperLaunch master mind groups and to join a group, visit the Peer Learning page on our website.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019 - 11:30am

Year-end Review: Your Business Barometer

We all know that a barometer is an instrument used to measure atmospheric pressure. Another definition of a barometer is something that reflects changes in circumstances and opinions. A good business barometer could be an annual review of that business to determine current trends and can also be used to forecast the future, and thus, to revise a strategic business plan.

An annual check-up is as good an idea for a business as it is for a human being. Most successful businesses spend time frequently and regularly evaluating progress toward strategic goals. Sometimes, even those strategic goals need an update.

Owners of established businesses may want to use the annual review as a sort of barometer to identify how to make the most of the market position already attained and decide where to take the business next.

Reviewing progress will be particularly important when an owner feels uncertain about the future and which direction to take. An annual review can refocus and give new direction as a new year of operations begins.

When setting a new direction, questions to be addressed might include these:

  1. Where should the business be in 3-5 years?
  2. Are there new markets to pursue?
  3. How can the business perform better than the competition?
  4. What skills, assets, relationships, technical competence will be needed?
  5. Are there new or different key measures of performance that should be adopted?

When assessing the core activities of the business, these questions may be helpful:

  1. Are any products or services not performing well? Should or could they be discontinued?
  2. What are factors making some products more successful?
  3. In both cases, how can products be improved or are there complimentary products or services that should be offered?
  4. Do products and services still solve customer problems and meet their needs?
  5. Are there any rising costs that have made certain products or services unprofitable?

When assessing the efficiencies of the business, consider these questions:

  1. Does it still make sense to own or lease physical space? Is the current space still meeting the needs of the business?
  2. Is it time to consider a new location for the sake of convenience to the trade area, for better support of updated technology, capacity issues, potential cost savings, etc.?

When assessing human resources, consider these questions:

  1. Is there significant turnover? What is causing it?
  2. Is current staff adequately trained to do the required job, or is additional training necessary? Are additional skills needed?
  3. Is the leadership team effective?

When reviewing your finances, ask these questions:

  1. Is gross margin going up or going down? What are the causes of that movement and does the trend present an advantage or are adjustments needed?
  2. Have working capital needs changed?
  3. Are there cash flow challenges?
  4. Is financing debt becoming too costly?

Conduct a fresh competitor analysis by taking these actions:

  1. Determine if there are any new competitors and identify what they offer.
  2. What do they say about themselves?
  3. What do customers say about them?
  4. Conduct a revised SWOT analysis

A fresh market analysis might be in order. Consider these factors:

  1. Changes in your market or trade area
  2. Changes in customer needs
  3. New technological developments
  4. Customer feedback on your products or services
  5. Other analysis tools such as Porter’s Five Forces or STEEPLE analysis, in addition to the SWOT analysis already mentioned.

Reviewing these seven areas of a business each year will go a long way in uncovering potential problems as well as opportunities for improvements. By examining these areas in depth, the business owner will regain certainty and will become focused on key activities that will assure a higher probability of success.

NaperLaunch will be hosting a SCORE Fox Valley workshop on December 5, at 8:00 a.m. in the Nichols Library Community Room. Join us for more guidance on year-end analysis.

Monday, November 4, 2019 - 4:00pm

Understanding Your Digital Footprint

When you are on the hunt for a new job or seeking a promotion, your digital footprint can mean the difference between landing that dream position or not. One of the easiest ways for hiring managers to gain insight into prospective employee character is through their activities online, many of which extend far beyond social media.

Digital Footprint: one’s unique set of digital activities, actions, and communications; one’s overall impact, impression, or effect as manifested on the Internet; online presence of visibility as a person.

Many individuals have their social media account on private settings, which is a great start. Bear in mind that when others tag you in posts or images, those are subject to their privacy settings, not yours. If you are tagged in any suspicious circumstances, hit un-tag. Maintaining memories with your friends and family can be done in a more private method, especially when you are a job seeker. (They will understand.)

While it is important to be cognizant of images, also be aware of positive online activities.

Have you or your work been profiled in the media? Post about it! Those types of stories help prospective employers see the value and influence you can bring to their organization.

Do you have a stance on an issue in your community or workplace? If you present it in a calm, professional manner - post about it! As Alexander Hamilton said in Hamilton the Musical, “What do you stand for? … If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?” Showcasing that you have opinions and the ability to express them in a constructive manner can be of value to innovative workplaces. Employers are looking for people who think, not simply follow the herd.

Are you volunteering in the community? Post about it! Your volunteerism should be reflected on your resume (especially if it adds value to your skills).  Showcasing volunteer work online adds credence to what is stated on your application and in the interviews. The more your digital footprint matches your professional presence the more credible your application becomes.

While there are many pitfalls to the Internet, you can use your digital footprint to your advantage if you play it smart. The moral of the story – be careful and cognizant of what you post.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019 - 4:15pm