The 3 Most Critical Elements of a Small Business Cybersecurity Plan

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This is a guest post from Tonya Buckner of BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc.

In a previous post, we looked at the disturbing prevalence of cyber-attacks, and how small businesses are especially at risk.

As of December 31, 2017, any company wishing to work with the government is required to have a documented cybersecurity plan. This is an excellent opportunity to make sure your business is prepared for this inevitable threat.

The three critical elements of a cybersecurity plan

1. People

• Requires executive leadership commitment to security
• Train and educate employees about cyber threats and hold them accountable
• Require employees to use strong passwords and to change them often

The bottom line is that employees should participate in identifying and protecting your business from security incidents. Ultimately, your goal is to build a culture of cybersecurity that includes employees knowing how to protect themselves and the business.

2. Processes

• Create a cybersecurity policy for your business
• Develop procedures for safeguarding employee, vendor, and customer information
• Establish security practices and policies to protect sensitive information
• Include protocols/processes that employees must follow in case of a breach

3. Technology

Although all three are critical, the technology is the most critical element of a cybersecurity plan.

• Update computers and software
• Regularly update your computers, including desktops, laptops, and mobile devices
• Ensure operating systems, software applications, and web browsers are up to date
• Encrypt data and create backups
• Regularly backup the information so if information is stolen, you will have another copy somewhere else
• Limit and control access
• Unauthorized personnel should not have access to company computers and accounts
• Secure your infrastructure (physical location, network, etc.)
• A business’s Wi-Fi can be an easy way to access data; secure your Wi-Fi so only authorized personnel can access it.

If you become a victim of a breach take the following steps:

Act immediately
• Contact your IT team, legal counsel and cyber liability insurance agent

Contain the breach
• Take affected systems offline, but don’t turn them off – that way your IT team can examine the source of the breach

Document every step
• Authorities will need to know these details

Communicate clearly
• Ensure affected groups are made aware of the issue and the steps being taken

A great cybersecurity resource is the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), who distributes bulletins and alerts. It provides information for both technical and non-technical users, shares cybersecurity tips, and responds to incident, phishing, and vulnerabilities reports.

It is imperative that businesses exercise breach preparedness and readiness in order to remain competitive in today’s marketplace. Cybersecurity strategies are not optional; they need to be regarded as a core activity in your business.

BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc. (BucknerMT, Inc.) is a verified service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) and woman-owned small business (WOSB). Since 2007, they have supported the Department of Defense (DoD), Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) by providing engineering, integration, and sustainment solutions to protect its critical military infrastructure, platforms and data. Department of Defense is the highest level of cyber protection.


Cybersecurity: What Your Small Business Needs to Know

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This is a guest post from Tonya Buckner of BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc.

“I am convinced that there are only two types of companies: those that have been hacked and those that will be.”Former FBI Director Robert Mueller

The City of Atlanta, Amazon, BlueCross BlueShield, Disney, Equifax, Home Depot, Microsoft, Sony, Target, and Yahoo. What do all these companies have in common? These are large organizations with massive infrastructure. If it can happen to them, it can definitely happen to you. Small businesses are the heart of the US economy and yet we are some of the most vulnerable to the threat of cyber attacks.

Cyber-attacks are growing every day, from influencing major elections to crippling businesses overnight. Consider these statistics:

  • There is a hacker attack every 39 seconds, affecting one in three Americans each year
  • 64% of companies have experienced web-based attacks
  • 62% experienced phishing & social engineering attacks
  • 59% of companies experienced malicious code and botnets and 51% experienced denial of service attacks
  • The average cost of a data breach in 2020 will exceed $150 million by 2020, as more business infrastructure gets connected
  • In 2017, 61% of small businesses experienced cyber-attacks
  • 60% of all small businesses go out of business within six months of experiencing a cyber-attack

(Source: Verizon Data Breach Report)

Most disturbingly, the same report found that 90% of small businesses do not use any data protection to secure their company and customer information.

As small business owners, we often find ourselves “laptop road warriors,” working in our cars, at Starbucks, on a plane, in a restaurant, or in a hotel room, just to name a few. Yet these environments are playgrounds for cyber attackers. Public Wi-Fi systems are unsecure and a gateway for hackers to access your system and steal your information. By using them you are exposing yourself to the world.

It is important to take proactive steps to combat cyber attacks to protect your company and your customers’ information, as well as to avoid excessive financial cost. It is critical that you do not underestimate the effect cyber warfare can have on your business.

Cybersecurity refers to a set of techniques used to protect the integrity of networks, programs and data from attack, damage or unauthorized access, ensuring the integrity, confidentiality and availability of information. It represents the ability to defend against and recover from attacks by adversaries.

The first step to cybersecurity is to assess the current vulnerability of your organization. It is equally important to understand the cyber risks as your business grows, adding new technologies or functions. Once you understand the risks associated with your organization, you can better protect it from theft. Potential risks include:

  • Outdated and/or unlicensed hardware and software
  • Ineffective/nonexistent policies
  • Ineffective/nonexistent procedures
  • Lazy oversight/lack of training
  • Loose enforcement

In a follow up post, we’ll look at the most important elements of your small business’s cybersecurity plan.

BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc. (BucknerMT, Inc.) is a verified service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) and woman-owned small business (WOSB). Since 2007, they have supported the Department of Defense (DoD), Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) by providing engineering, integration, and sustainment solutions to protect its critical military infrastructure, platforms and data. Department of Defense is the highest level of cyber protection.


Trends in Government Contract Financing

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This is a guest post by Katie Bilek of Republic Capital Access.

Small businesses face a unique set of financial challenges as federal government procurement has evolved over the past few years. Here are some recent trends that stress small businesses:

Awards too large for a company’s financial wherewithal

The nature of the federal contracting environment has led to many out-sized contract awards to small businesses. It’s not uncommon for us to see a contractor win work that is at least 3 to 4 times the size of their existing portfolio of contracts. In many cases, this may be the result of desired efficiency, where a contracting officer chooses to merge multiple legacy contracts into a single vehicle.

More frequently, contracts are “flipped” from full and open to a small business preference (such as HUBzone, SDVOSB, etc.) to achieve set-aside goals, introducing the potential awardee to what was previously a large business task, most likely at the high end of their NAICS ceiling. It is important to have a financial institution that is prepared to triple or quadruple the size of your existing financing upon contract award.

Cost of pursuing indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) and blanket purchase agreement (BPA) contracts

While multi-billion (or trillion) dollar contract ceilings sound enviable for any small business owner, IDIQ/GWAC and BPA contracts are merely a license to hunt. We have seen many small businesses expend nearly all of their resources and cash reserves to win large IDIQ contracts. When they finally pursue task orders and hire key personnel in advance of execution, many lack the capital to perform the work.

Focus on cash flow projections and choose a financial partner who can provide financing based upon the creditworthiness of your government customer and contract, not your balance sheet.

Requirement to have financing in place in order to be compliant with bid

We have seen increasing scrutiny on the part of contracting officers to make sure small businesses can demonstrate financial capability to execute the contract in compliance with the FAR.

Many solicitations now require a financial capability letter from a financing institution citing the solicitation, description and a financing facility equal to at least three months’ worth of billings in. Your financial partner should be able to provide this commitment letter at no cost for future contract awards.

Challenges related to financing joint ventures

Unpopulated joint ventures are a popular teaming vehicle, yet the unpopulated joint venture structure itself often struggles to qualify for stand-alone financing without significant capital contributions or guarantees from its participating partners. Even when the JV partners maintain their own bank lines of credit independent from the JV, those banks are often unwilling to extend credit to the JV as an external entity.

Find a financial partner who will underwrite the unpopulated joint venture without requiring capital contributions from either party. This is done via non-recourse receivables financing.

Surges and volatility of product procurements

For value-added resellers, the federal fiscal year-end results in the lion’s share of revenue. For our small business friends holding NASA SEWP, CIO-CS and other contract vehicles, a combination of receivable and vendor financing is critical to executing large product orders.

While vendor credit programs can be affordable sources of financing, not all small business balance sheets can support 8-figure product orders on vendor credit alone; the non-recourse sale of receivables to pay vendors and manufacturers completes the financing package that allows resellers to execute during peak seasonal times. Choose a financial partner with a vendor financing solution with adequate availability for your largest product orders.

Loan sharks in sheep’s clothing

The prevalence of online, financial technology (FinTech) loans is startling. These fast money products are basically like an electronic version of payday loans for businesses, usually priced well above 30%.

They dress their virtual storefronts up in any manner of ways: the jeans-and-t-shirt, San Francisco techies; the self-proclaimed veteran lovers invoking images of patriotism, the Buy by Midnight! used car salesmen and the not-so-subtle cash advance lenders.

All of these lenders hawk financial products that are priced higher than most small business government contractor margins can support. Beware of online lenders, and always read the fine print; even if they tell you “It’s only 9%!” share the proposal with a banker who can shed light on the real math.

Republic Capital Access (RCA) is a specialty finance company for government contractors. RCA’s product offering includes non-recourse receivables financing, unbilled (mobilization) financing, financial commitment letters, joint venture financing, term loans and more. Katie Bilek currently serves as senior vice president of Republic Capital Access. She is also co-founder of govmates and board member of the National Veteran Small Business Coalition. Katie lives in Alexandria with her husband Beau and son Jackson.

 


Disaster Relief for Small Businesses Affected by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma

Did you know that SBA provides low-interest disaster loans to businesses of all sizes, as well as other organizations and individuals?

Check out this page for more information: https://www.sba.gov/disaster-assistance


What’s Stopping Women From Becoming Entrepreneurs?

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This is a guest post by Staci Redmon of SAMS.

Women entrepreneurs own 10.6 million businesses in the U.S., and employ 19.1 million people, who account for $2.5 trillion in sales. But according to the Kauffman Foundation, women represent only 35 percent of startup business owners, even though they represent about 46 percent of the workforce and more than 50 percent of college students.

So why aren’t there more women entrepreneurs?

One study, conducted by the University of North Carolina and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (and reported by National Public Radio) looked at 90,000 entrepreneurial projects launched on the crowdfunding website, Kickstarter. The study found that men are much more likely to be overconfident than women. When their project failed, they were much more likely to keep trying, while women tended to give up. Also, when women succeeded, they were more likely to feel that they just got lucky, while men feel that they are “geniuses.”

There is help for women entrepreneurs just starting out. The SBA set up its 8(a) Business Development Program to assist economically-disadvantaged women-owned small businesses (EDWOSBs) to compete for federal contracts in industries where women-owned small businesses are underrepresented. Women and minority-owned businesses can get access to specialized business training, counseling, marketing assistance, and high-level executive development. The SBA also offers guaranteed loans and bonding assistance for being involved in the program. SAMS has benefited from its SBA designation, and has also become part of the Mentor-Protégé Program which helps other women entrepreneurs through one-on-one mentorship.

Building a business is not easy, and many women cite the same characteristics as helping them to achieve their dream.

Gayle King of CBS news talks about persistence as a trait helped propel her to achieve her goal. She advises would-be entrepreneurs to “surround yourself with people that are better than you, because it forces you to up your game. Most importantly, never take no for an answer.”

When Staci Redmon founded SAMS, it was important to her to develop core values, which still remain at the heart of the company. These are commitment to employees, commitment to the client, and commitment to the community.

Staci started SAMS out of sheer frustration. As a veteran and a civil servant, she watched as vital equipment for our warfighters was denied funding. She used her determination and commitment to service members to fuel her drive to create an organization with the vision to measure impact not by the bottom line, but by the difference it could make. Since its founding, SAMS has won numerous awards and has been hailed repeatedly as one of the fastest growing companies in Virginia.

Another entrepreneur, JK Rowling, also relied on persistence to overcome adversity. Her literary agency sent the book to 12 different publishers before it was accepted. Rowling says, “I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into the only work that mattered to me. I was set free.”

As women entrepreneurs continue to pursue their dreams, the path to success, while never easy, becomes clearer and less uncertain by following in the footsteps of those who came before.

You can find more about SAMS and Staci’s 2020 Vision for the Future on our website http://www.getsamsnow.com.

This article originally appeared at http://getsamsnow.com/blog-post/whats-preventing-women-becoming-entrepreneurs/ and was adapted and reprinted with permission.


Contract Management Professionals, the World Congress is Here!

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© W.Scott – Fotolia.com

NCMA has been holding its World Congress since 1996, and each year it gets better and better. TAPE has been an exhibitor there for the past several years, and it’s interesting to meet contracting folks in a very different environment from the usual locations, or with their small business folk, etc.

I asked NCMA Executive Director Michael Fischetti: What’s new for this year’s event, July 26-29, 2015 in Dallas, Texas?

This year you’ll see some changes in the “interactive” nature of the event. Along with education aligned with the Contract Management Body of Knowledge (CMBOK), attendees will have increased opportunities to provide solutions to problems of the day as well as meet new colleagues in the field.

What are you most excited about?

Our fantastic line-up of key leaders and practitioners in the field, most of whom are new to our podium!

I see World Congress has a mobile app (search “NCMA Events” in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store) – what features does it offer for event participants?

The mobile app contains the A to Z of World Congress. It includes the full agenda (which attendees can customize based on what they plan to go to), speaker information, sponsors and exhibitors, social media tools, and more. There’s even a part of the app that provides detailed local information about Dallas, including local restaurants, directions, and airport information.

Who will benefit the most from attending the World Congress?

Anyone involved in contracting, whether they’re from industry or any level of government. Anyone who wants to network with others across the profession and the environment they work within.

Does the employee justification packet really work to convince employers to send people to the event?

Absolutely, and our attendees tell us they love it! World Congress is well worth the investment of time, and this packet provides answers to the questions that their training officers, leadership, or customers ask.

See you all in Dallas!

If you’re a contract management professional and you haven’t registered for the World Congress, click here to learn more. If you’re a business developer, this is a chance for you to meet contracting folks over a beer or soda between sessions. You’ll hear them discuss the issues relevant to you, like LPTA or small business. This year we’re sending our CFO, who’s also in charge of our contracts shop.


Alternative Financing: How to Maximize Your Chances of Securing an SBA Loan

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© Sergey Nivens – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by Richard Lewis, Financial Engineering Counselors, Ltd.

Securing the financing you need to grow your small business can be a challenge. Over the past decade, banks have increased lending to big business by 36%, but over the same period, bank lending to small businesses has declined by almost 15%, and loans of less than $100,000 have dropped precipitously by more than 33%.

Fortunately, small businesses can find alternative financing sources, including a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan. There are several different types of SBA loans, including:

Be sure to check which type of loan is right for your needs before beginning the application process.

SBA loans have been around for more than 60 years. These loans, which were established to promote small business growth, typically have lower interest rates and monthly loan payments.

Unfortunately, the process of applying for an SBA loan can be complicated and it can take a long time to complete the process. Once you do, there can also be an extended period of time before you actually obtain your funding. You can speed up the approval process by observing some simple guidelines. Here are five you need to be aware of:

  1. Your credit rating counts: Good credit is important for any loan, and that includes SBA loans. Follow good credit rules, like being sure to pay your bills before the deadlines. Obviously, you’ll want to avoid credit-killing actions like foreclosures and bankruptcies.
  2. Keep your financial documents up to date and organized: This includes all of your financial and accounting documents, as well as your tax records. You might consider using some good accounting software designed for small business if you don’t already to bring greater organization to your records. Having your financial records organized and accessible will move the process along more quickly.
  3. Spell out the purpose of the loan as clearly as possible: Lenders want to know that you’re a good loan risk, and that means they’ll be interested in what you plan to do with the money. Take the time to outline this in the clearest possible fashion, whether your loan is to add vehicles to your sales fleet or expand the size of your brick and mortar store.
  4. Explain how you’ll pay back the loan: You’ll need to demonstrate that you have good cash flow. You can do this through your most recent tax records. Lenders will also want to know how much other debt you have. If the loan is for a start-up business, you should pull together a smart financial plan and include credible projections which demonstrate your ability to make your monthly payments.
  5. Be prepared to describe your history: Lenders will want to know about your finances, but they’ll also be interested in whether you personally are a good risk. That has to do with your relevant experience, how much time you’ve been in business and the degree of professional success you’ve had.

Applying for any loan, whether traditional or through alternative financing, can be confusing. The good news is that there are experienced professionals who can walk you through the process, answer your questions and maximize your chances of success through long-standing partnerships with banks, finance companies and professional service firms.

This post originally appeared on the Financial Engineering Counselors website at http://www.fecltd.net/blog/?p=102 and was reprinted with permission.

Richard Lewis is a government contractor financing consultant. You can contact him at 703-992-8988.


A More ‘Simple’ Contracting Method With Perks for Government and Industry

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© Marzky Ragsac Jr. – Fotolia.com

This article originally appeared on The Chief Visionary’s Blog of The American Small Business Coalition, LLC, and was reprinted with permission.

(This is the first of six reports based on a conversation with Amy Morris, Morning Anchor at WNEW All News 99.1 (CBS Radio DC) These reports will also ‘air’ on All News 99.1.)

Once upon a time, the U.S. Government developed a way to streamline how it makes certain buys in a way that reduced the administrative burden for both agencies and vendors. But they didn’t stop there. Also built-in to this process was a way for agencies to increase business opportunities for small and disadvantaged business concerns in government contracting. Known as the ‘Simplified Acquisition Procedures,’ this procurement method accounts for billions of dollars in competitive and non-competitive obligations each fiscal year.

But while many in industry bid on and are awarded buys this way every day, most don’t realize it’s a different type of contracting when compared to how most dollars are obligated each fiscal year. “Simplified Acquisitions account for nearly $40B in obligations since the start of FY12,” says Guy Timberlake, chief visionary officer and CEO of The American Small Business Coalition. “It may be a drop in the bucket, but I never turned down an opportunity to engage agencies this way.”

That’s because according to Timberlake, his first million dollar deal in government contracting was the result of developing a relationship with a Navy customer via these smaller buys.

Another potential perk for some in industry is the fact most Simplified Acquisition buys are awarded via a purchase order, a standalone contract. “Purchase orders are not buys placed against an established contract vehicle so this eliminates some of the traditional upfront investment of pursuing and being awarded a GSA Schedule, Blanket Purchase Agreement or Indefinite Delivery Contract.”

So which agencies are buying this way and what are they buying? Timberlake says “Nearly all of them and pretty much anything they want to buy that is considered goods and services.”

Note from Bill: As Guy points out, this is a way to build a relationship. These small purchase items represent “starter” contracts, requiring no vehicle, and can be a way to prove yourself or your solution. Part of the reason for reaching out to ASBC is because they have really focused on the simplified acquisition process, and have made this a way of business to be reckoned with. And since we were members of ASBC back when it started, it’s always good to see more of our small business advocates succeeding.

Guy Timberlake is Chief Visionary and Chief Executive Officer of The American Small Business Coalition (The ASBC). Under Guy’s leadership, The American Small Business Coalition is credited with enhancing the knowledge, skills and confidence of small government contractors, facilitating hundreds of productive partnerships between small, mid-tier and large companies, and contributing to the successful award and capture of contracts and subcontracts valued at more than $10 billion dollars.


How a Good Business Plan is a Key Messaging Tool

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© Minerva Studio – Fotolia.com

In a previous post, Cheree Warrick shared her expert tips for how to write a bankable business plan. These types of business plans are not just necessary to raise capital, but to attract people to your company.

I asked Cheree for her thoughts about how a business plan is such a key messaging tool.

An investable business plan can articulate your competitive advantage to three important audiences:

  1. Customers – No matter what the size of your business, you must be able to  communicate the value of your company to customers and prospective customers. It’s important to know who you’re serving and not serving – to niche yourself and dominate that niche. Too many business owners want to include everyone as potential customers rather than really targeting their message to a distinct group. A lot of times you can make more money in smaller niches than larger, more general niches.
  1. Employees – To get and retain the best talent, you must be able to express your vision and ensure everyone working together towards that vision. The more chaos in a company, the less profits it earns.
  1. Shareholders – If you’re a solopreneur, you’re the only shareholder, but for a Fortune 500 this might be an enormous group. This category also includes advisory board members who may be able to open doors for you in your industry.

Your message must always balance between making sure each of these three groups get what they want and need to be satisfied. The way you deliver the plan, or portions of the plan, may be different for each group.

Note from Bill: A good business plan is the strategic blueprint that tells you what are you focusing on, so you’re not trying to imitate another company or market to every place in the government.

Thank you again to Cheree Warrick of 1 Billion in Financing for these practical tips. The goal of 1 Billion in Financing is to help 1,000 entrepreneurs raise over $1 billion in capital for their growing enterprises by writing business plans that banks approve. For more information, please visit http://1billioninfinancing.com/.


How to Write a Bankable Business Plan

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In 2012, banks and angel investors gave 5.9 million small businesses, start-ups and early-stage companies over $228 billion in funding to grow their companies. The money is flowing. Is it flowing your way?

Cheree Warrick helps businesses create bankable business plans. She explains that there are five parts to a bankable business plan:

1. Market opportunity, where you tell them the problem you’re solving in the marketplace, how many people have that problem, and how many your company could service.

2. Customer acquisition and retention, where you describe how you will: Attract prospects, convert those prospects into customers, service those customers, upsell new products/services to those customers, retain those customers, and get referrals to new customers.

3. Team, where you illustrate that your company has great leadership and a cohesive team that can not only attract and serve customers but also take care of operational issues including accounting, legal and technology.

4. Competitive advantage, where you explain what sets you apart.

5. Financial projections including an Income Statement and Cash Flow Statement

What may be the most intimidating parts of the business plan is also one of the most important. The #1 item that a bank is looking for is cash flow. You have to show that you can pay all your business expenses (payroll comes first, then rent for office space, etc.) plus your home bills (housing costs, food, etc.), plus be prepared to handle an emergency or two. On top of all that a lender wants to see that you can pay back that commercial loan, month after month, year after year.

When reviewing your financial statements and considering your request, investors must answer yes to all of these questions:

  1. Is this investment something that would go well in our portfolio?
  2. Are they asking for enough money? Too much money?
  3. Do we believe there’s truly a market opportunity?
  4. Do we believe the marketing plan will attract, convert, and retain paying customers?
  5. Do we believe this team can take advantage of the market opportunity and earn the cash flows and margins they state?
  6. Do we believe we’ll get our money back?

Seems fairly straightforward, Cheree. So how do people fall short when they’re trying to apply these recommendations?

They don’t have anyone to talk with or strategize with or review their plan. OR they bring it to the banker and expect the banker to review it and tell them what’s right or wrong. Bankers don’t have the time to do this extensive strategizing to take this information and apply it to their business. Bankers tell me they want to lend money, but entrepreneurs come to them so unprepared, they don’t believe the entrepreneur will take the capital the bank gives them and do the right things with it – or make their business grow.

Second, people want to use a fill-in-the-blank template and get bankable results. It doesn’t work that way. You must be able to speak about your business in such a way that it causes the bank to say, “Wow! What this person is doing is dynamic.” And you won’t get that from a fill-in-the-blank template. You get it from being able to speak or write about your business in a unique way that draws people in.

The final point I have is this: People only lend to you when you don’t need the money. If you’re desperate for money, there are alternate sources of funding. If you’re keeping up with your bookkeeping, you should know that a cash crunch is coming. Keep your head out of the sand. A great business owner pays attention to every part of the business, not just the new customer who’s coming through the door.

When you’re doing well and you know you could grow your business 10X with a more aggressive budget, that is the time for a bankable business plan.

Thank you to Cheree Warrick of 1 Billion in Financing for these practical tips. Cheree writes business plans that banks approve. The goal of 1 Billion in Financing is to help 1,000 entrepreneurs raise over $1 billion in capital for their growing enterprises. For more information, please visit http://1billioninfinancing.com/.


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