10 Verizon Small Business Digital Ready entrepreneurs share their 2022 breakthroughs

From storytelling that built a customer base to mentoring that yielded e-commerce sales, a look at the impact the Digital Ready program had on these entrepreneurs.

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Left to right: Shari Raymond, CEO of Milton & Goose; Janie Flores, Founder of Buena Vida Media; and Yudy Carrera, CEO of Events by Yudy. Credit: Shari Raymond, Dec8 Productions, and Michael Le Brecht ii.

In 2022, small business owners — more than 100,000 of them — gained access to free courses, one-on-one coaching, and networking with fellow entrepreneurs through Verizon Small Business Digital Ready, an online curriculum designed to help small businesses succeed. Instead of backing down from challenges, these CEOs faced them head-on, implementing cutting-edge business skills and insights from Verizon Small Business Digital Ready to help ramp up their marketing plans, fix their finances, and bounce back from Covid.

Here, 10 inspiring entrepreneurs we met in 2022 share their stories about how Digital Ready helped transform their companies.

Marketing makeovers: Using new techniques to increase reach

1. Shari Raymond, CEO of Milton & Goose, Stamford, CT. When demand soared during Covid for my company’s heirloom-quality play kitchens, I decided to open my own manufacturing facility in my home state of Connecticut. I was so focused on product development that I hadn’t placed as much attention on my marketing strategy.

The Selling with Storytelling course at Verizon Small Business Digital Ready made me realize I was missing a key opportunity to market my business by sharing my journey with my customers. Starting my own factory has been rough, but being able to share this journey with others has meant everything. I began utilizing what I learned about narrative storytelling. For my company’s fifth birthday, I created a short write-up about how far the company has come, weaving together the idea of raising a company and children simultaneously. Incorporating personal story and other techniques, Milton & Goose saw an 18% increase in newsletter subscribers, tripled our sales performance on the birthday sale, and gained a 10% follower increase on social media.

2. Janie Flores, founder of Buena Vida Media, Miami, FL. I started my public relations business 10 years ago to help small business owners and non-profits position themselves in the market and elevate their brands. But when the pandemic hit, 80% of my clientele was gone overnight. One thing I was able to keep was my radio show, Janie Flores Live. I started it five years ago and have since interviewed over 400 multi-cultural thought leaders across the southeast and the country. To support the show and purchase better broadcasting equipment, I applied for the $10,000 grant from Verizon Small Business Digital Ready. I didn’t get the grant, but the learnings from the courses inspired me to get better at YouTube and use all the platforms available to connect my audience with the information they need. As a result, I launched my YouTube channel in February and have been consistently creating content and brushing up on my digital media skills ever since.

3. Yudy Carrera, CEO of Events by Yudy, Bronx, NY. My mother raised us cooking and selling fish in the Dominican Republic. I moved to the United States at age 20 and worked for over 17 years, cooking and managing sales for catering companies. Today, I own my own catering company, Events by Yudy; my mother is the heart of the company. The traditional recipes of the business are from her. In 2020, I heard about the Verizon Small Business Digital Ready program and excitedly registered. I was surprised by my reaction to the courses. I was very emotional. You start a business with a dream and then you see how complicated it is. The How to Spread the Digital Word: Communications Strategy course helped me tremendously with branding, retaining current customers and attracting new ones. I have hired a social media expert and upgraded my website to drive more sales.

Gia Mora (left) and Denny Rivas (right) are tapping the art of e-commerce to sell a nifty golfing invention. Credit: Miguel Alvarez.

4. Denny Rivas, founder of The Original Cap Magnet, Los Angeles, CA: One day while playing golf, I invented The Original Cap Magnet, a small magnetized patch that fits inside a hat to conveniently hold a golf ball marker. We now sell them directly to consumers from our website. But after an initial push to the market, we struggled with sales. My fiancée, Gia, heard about the Digital Ready courses through the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and jumped at the chance to get the support. We gained a tremendous amount of insight from a targeted 1:1 session with a retired Verizon employee who had years of experience in marketing. Afterward, we implemented website revisions and have since seen a 20% uptick in sales.

Resilience building: Getting help and inspiration in order to take new strides

Left to right: Donna Oti, CEO of 3C Communication and Culture; Ronda and James Stone, Jr., co-founders of Ghot Wingz; and Martu Freeman-Parker, CEO of M.E.F. Productions. Credit: Miguel Alvarez, Ronda Stone, and Tania Fernandez.

5. Donna Oti of 3C Communication and Culture, Huntsville, AL. When my business partner passed away, I found myself running our brainchild, 3C Communication and Culture, an organizational development firm, on my own. My strong academic background needed a complement of business savvy, so I turned to Verizon Small Business Digital Ready courses earlier this year. The courses and 1:1 sessions pushed me to seek outside guidance on finances, change the way I market the firm, and create workflow processes. The impact has been tremendous. I have secured two new contracts that increased the company’s revenue tenfold, snagged a keynote speaking role, and saved thousands of dollars by applying new money management skills. The marketing courses and group discussions led me to redo my website, which in turn has led to a big increase in traffic. But the best part of my experience with Digital Ready has been networking at the virtual Community Connect event. I get to talk with my peers who are experiencing what I am experiencing. It’s a no-judgment zone.

6. Ronda Stone, co-Founder of Ghot Wingz, East Nashville, TN. In 2008, my husband James and I took a leap of faith and started our restaurant Ghot Wingz. Due to our great location and delicious wing flavors, Ghot Wingz survived the financial crisis as well as the pandemic. Still, with the wholesale cost of wings skyrocketing, I applied for and received the $10,000 grant available at Digital Ready. With the funds, we’ve been able to offset the cost of wings and continue to offer our customers affordable prices. The information in the Digital Ready courses has also been vital; it inspired us to cut out a third-party vendor and use different money management techniques, which has resulted in us saving a nice amount of money. We are now making plans to open our second location.

7. Martu Freeman-Parker, CEO of M.E.F Productions, Fort Lauderdale, FL. The pandemic altered everything for me. While M.E.F Productions has always offered fashion-design coaching and workshops as part of its business, my product went from one-on-one and in-person, to me doing workshops and boot camps online. I signed up for Verizon Small Business Digital Ready to boost my business acumen. Through the courses, I realized I had a new demographic to market to, and that I needed to implement Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to reach target audiences. I took the Selling With Storytelling course, which inspired me to upgrade the content on my website; it has helped me continue to grow my business on a global scale.

Scaling the business: Getting keener on business skills to reach bigger markets

Left to right: Jevon Wooden, CEO of Live Not Loathe; Margo Clayson, CEO of The Mighty Microgreen; and Samantha Sinclair, CEO of Pathway to Purpose. Credit: Tania Fernandez, Margo Clayson, and Michael Le Brecht ii.

8. Jevon Wooden, CEO of Live Not Loathe, Houston, TX. I typically advise my business coaching clients to look inside before they start revamping their work lives. Recently, I took a look at my own business strategies while taking courses through Verizon Small Business Digital Ready. I learned to really plan and delegate. I hired an executive assistant to handle client research, PowerPoint slides and graphics. Just relinquishing control has been awesome. I can now focus on the big picture: going global. This year, I accepted a coaching contract in Europe. Next, is Africa.

9. Margo Clayson, founder of The Mighty Microgreen, Inksom, ID. I had been growing and selling microgreens for the past four years — as well as educating more than 2,000 customers about these seedling forms of edible plants — when I decided to pivot my business, The Mighty Microgreen. Instead of only selling the freshly harvested microgreens, I wanted to develop a product: an educational kit to inspire children to grow and eat microgreens. With no formal business background, I sought support from Verizon Small Business Digital Ready. After taking several courses and 1:1 coaching sessions, I evolved my product—and website—towards being a one-stop educational resource for growing microgreens sustainably. Every Verizon course and session I’ve taken I have found useful. My new website is live and going great!

​​10. Samantha Sinclair, CEO of Pathway to Purpose in Brooklyn, NY.  Pathway to Purpose is an education innovation company that makes college prep fun. During Covid, as our client load dropped, we decided to focus on developing our Prep-On-Demand software product; our goal is to roll it out to 1 million people over the next five years. I opted to take courses from Verizon Small Business Digital Ready to brush up on my business skills. I took the Winning Contracts and Selling with Storytelling courses, which optimized my proposal grant writing and helped me create the perfect business pitch. We are now ready to pitch to anyone and deliver our product nationally.

Verizon Small Business Digital Ready provides free personalized courses, live coaching, networking, micro mentorship, and grant opportunities for eligible small businesses. To sign-up for this free program, click here.

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