7 Tips for Working With a Business Mentor


Working with a business mentor can be a valuable experience for small business owners, especially when they are staring out or going through a transition. A business mentor can share lessons about his or her successes and failures, be a sounding board for ideas, help generate business connections, and provide both encouragement and constructive suggestions.

Here are 7 Tips for Working with a Business Mentor

Establish Goals & Define Success

Set goals for what you want to learn and where you want to go with your business. This will give you direction for working with your mentor. Also discuss expectations for the mentoring relationship so that you and your mentor have the same understanding of goals and expectations.

Make Meeting Easy

You will be more likely to meet and get something out of the experience if meeting isn’t complicated. Find an easy place and time to meet and don’t plan to solve every problem in one sitting. Your initial meeting might last a while since you are figuring out how you are going to work together, but don’t expect a lengthy get-together every time.

Build Trust

Observe, listen, be honest, be respectful, and follow through on commitments. Expect the same. Remember that you are developing a relationship. If the relationship works, then keep meeting. If it does not, it is okay to decide that it is not a good fit and to look for a different mentor.

Don’t Fear Change

People are often reluctant to change because it requires effort and learning how to do things differently. If you are working with a mentor to try to do things better in some way, this means being open to change.

Listen, But Also Listen  to Your Judgment

Listening to your mentor involves being willing to learn from another person’s experience and if the relationship is going to be a good one, you need to follow up on your mentor’s advice a certain percentage of the time. However, ultimately, it is your business or career and you are the one responsible for your decisions.

Acknowledge When It Is Over

Some mentoring relationships last for a relatively short period, others last for years. It depends on what both parties have to offer and to receive from the relationship. If there comes a point at which you outgrow the relationship, don’t feel obligated to pretend that is not the case.

Show Appreciation

When your mentor goes out of her way to share experience and puts thought and effort into giving advice, let her know that you are grateful and also how what she has shared has helped you. Everyone likes to be appreciated. When it is your turn to be a mentor, you will appreciate the same!

Related Posts:

Goals, Success and Reflection



Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.

Business Advisor

Washburn University

Kansas SBDC


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Primary Color: Exporter of Music

Earlier this year, Primary Color Music won the KU KSBDC Existing Business of the Year Award. The Kansas SBDC Business of the Year awards honor businesses based on their successful performance and good corporate citizenship.  I had the pleasure of interviewing PCM founder Sam Billen for this article.

Lest anyone think that the only exporters in Kansas are either in the aircraft industry or agriculture, let me call attention to Primary Color Music. PCM is a music composition and design firm based in Lawrence, Kansas that has been doing so well exporting its music to Asia that it recently opened an office in Tokyo. PCM composes/designs/produces music for commercials, video games and films and has amassed an impressive list of international clients. Usually the visuals are produced first and then the music and sound effects are the last things added, but sometimes a client will ask PCM to write the music and then design the visuals to go with the audio production.

(Watch this video – and listen! – to a sample of the musical artistry of Primary Color Music.)


When asked, “What would you like people to know about Primary Color Music?” Sam’s initial response was that he wants people to know the the PCM team has a lot of fun doing what they do; but, he added, he also wants people to know that wherever the team goes he is proud to tell people that they are from Kansas. Dealing with international clients, he often finds that they are used to working with companies from mega-cities like New York. Being able to boast that PCM is from Kansas really differentiates Primary Color Music from competitors. Clients love the fact that Primary Color Music has a different story to tell.

Sam and brother Dan grew up in a musical household, playing instruments at an “early, early age”. Their father was a commercial music writer which contributed to the brothers’ ability to recognize and create artistry in this genre. Sam founded Primary Color Music in 2013 and started out writing music for local commercials. A few years later, Dan – a Washburn grad – joined him in the company.  Sam is proud of he PCM team’s ability to create objectively good music and of how many people have been exposed to their music through their commercials.

(Watch this fun video of Sam and Dan Billen telling their story.)


While in college at KU, Sam had studied Japanese out of love for the language and culture. At the time, he had no idea that this passion would ultimately intersect professionally with his love of music.

Sam’s wife is from Japan and the family took vacations to that country every summer. As Primary Color Music developed its portfolio and developed clients in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, Sam used to wonder what the company could become if he lived in one of those cities; but then he realized that with all of his vacations to Japan and knowing the language, he could keep the company in Lawrence and still dive into the Japanese market.  That decision turned out to be a huge boon for Primary Color Music which now derives about half of its business from Japan.

Sam says that he loves working in Japan because there is an artistic quality throughout the culture and throughout every interaction that makes it a “crazy, fun, creative atmosphere for advertising.” Having gotten noticed internationally, the Primary Color Music team now has the freedom to pick the people and companies that they enjoy working with.  Understanding the culture in Japan, though, was hugely important to Sam’s being able to get the company’s foot in the door so that PCM could get that international start.  The company now has clients in 6 or 7 countries including Singapore and China.

In describing how Primary Color Music got its start in Japan, Sam also notes that he strategically searched for specific individuals to connect with, e.g. searching Linked In for Kansas connections and connecting with U.S. clients that had foreign offices. PCM’s business is built on real relationships and so the ability to connect with people, including other artists, was important – especially in Japan where relationships can take a long time to develop.

There are a few things that Primary Color Music needed to work out about how to do business internationally such as figuring out how to avoid double taxation, invoicing requirements for different countries, managing wire transfers and so forth. Getting a bilingual accountant helped with this. So did developing a relationship with JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization).

Sam came to the Kansas SBDC for help when he was making the transition from being a solopreneur to having employees and having to deal with salaries and administrative duties that he didn’t have to deal with previously. At this time, the company was also growing rapidly and he needed help managing the growth. Sam says that he and Business Advisor Brian Dennis “hit it off from the first meeting.” According to Sam, Brian understood the creative, organic nature of the business and that enabled Brian to help PCM even through its later transition into exporting.

So what’s next? Sam plans to move to Tokyo for a while to solidify operations in that office, but Lawrence will remain the company’s home office.

We at the Kansas SBDC wish Sam and Primary Color Music the very best! We’ll be listening for them!


On July 28th, Certified Global Business Professional John Addessi from the JCCC KSBDC will be teaching The Riddle of The Exporter in Manhattan. This seminar is for businesses that are interested in learning how to export their products or services and for businesses already exporting that want to learn more about realizing opportunities, working with other cultures, handling financial transactions, simplifying logistics and avoiding legal issues. Check here for more information about attending The Riddle of The Exporter.  Contact the WU KSBDC for information about using STEP Grants through the Kansas Department of Commerce to help cover the cost for qualifying businesses.

Related Posts:

Export: A Growth Area for Small Businesses

Toto’s Tacoz: Existing Business of The Year

Goals, Success and Reflection


Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.

Business Advisor

Washburn University

Kansas SBDC

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Selling or Buying a Business


Getting ready to sell a business can be an emotionally-fraught experience for small business owners, especially for those who have put much of their lives into their businesses. Add to this the fact that frequently it is the case that the bulk of the owner’s (or owners’) assets is tied up in the business and the result is that the handling the sale well is of tremendous import.

There is a lot to know about how to get a business ready to sell in order to maximize its value, how to market it for sale, how to handle confidentiality agreements and letters of intent, and so forth; and these are things with which the typical business owner has little or no experience. Knowing how to sell one’s products or services does not necessarily equate to knowing how to sell the business itself.

On the other side of the equation, a buyer’s decision to purchase a business can be equally complicated.  It can be difficult to know what is the right price to pay for a business, what questions to ask about the business’s finances and operations, what to expect of the transition process, and what financing options are available.

At the WU SBDC, we provide advising services to help clients interested in selling their business or interested in purchasing a going business concern. These services include business valuation, value acceleration, transition planning, and more.

On July 27th, the Kansas SBDC at JCCC is offering a half-day conference on buying and selling a business, with separate tracks for buyers and sellers.  This is a great learning opportunity geared toward helping people make smart decisions.

Related Posts:

What’s Your Exit Strategy?

The Man Behind The Winged Lion

Do You Know the Real Value of Your Business?

Thinking About Closing Your Business?

What’s Your Exit Strategy?


Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.

Business Advisor

Washburn University

Kansas SBDC


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Prairie Glass Studio Celebrates Fifth Anniversary

Original article posted to the Topeka Capital-Journal June 10, 2017.

Artistic ability shown at an early age has helped Kymm Ledbetter in her life and business, allowing her to create a world for herself and the community by producing beautiful fused glass art.

“I was born with it,” said Ledbetter, designer and owner of Prairie Glass Studio, when asked about her love of art.

0C5A0858-copy-e1429718650340She grew up in Orange County, Calif., and enjoyed scrapbooking before many people knew about the craft. She has created all of her life and finds art soothing and fulfilling. Even during a recent vacation, she was sketching ornament patterns to create in her store for Christmas.

Her goal is to make her store a destination for people to come and shop for handmade ornaments and gifts.

“I always loved to make things. My dad or my mom would always take me to the craft store, and I’d buy stuff to make things. I’ve made things all my life,” she said.

Ledbetter graduated from Washburn University in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. After her divorce, when her children were 3 and 5 years old, she decided to go back to college and learn more about art. She had attended college for six years and taken all of the required art classes some years earlier.

“I didn’t get a degree and still didn’t find my love, my passion. I was 34 or 35 when I was at Washburn and had a background in graphic design. I took a pottery class with Glenda Taylor, and she literally held up a piece (of fused glass) and I said, ‘That’s what I want to do the rest of my life,’ ” she said.

After graduating, she taught summer camps for children in the basement of her home and had a business for 12 years before she got her brick-and-mortar studio. Her dining room table and chairs sit in her store to give it a homey feel, like the days when she worked with clients at her residence.

“I taught about 10 years at Washburn and haven’t taught for two years. I just asked if I could teach, and Glenda told me I would need a master’s. Later she came to me and informed me she had gotten approval for me to teach the fused glass art class,” Ledbetter said.

When asked about the market for the art she creates in Topeka, she said her customers like conservative and familiar pieces, such as sunflowers. “Anything with a sunflower on it, and they also like things that function and serves a purpose, such as salt and pepper shakers, oil bottles, spoon rests, wine stoppers. All those things you can use every day. I found there’s a big need for that,” Ledbetter said.

She also creates awards and recognition pieces for the ARTSConnect Arty Awards, the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce and others.


“They’re really creative. I can usually have fun with those, learn about the person and what they’re like and then kind of interpret that, so that’s cool,” she said.

Ledbetter has seven part-time employees, including her daughter, Rachel Ledbetter. “She’s very talented and creative, and she loves to paint,” she said.

Her son, Jake Ledbetter, enjoys learning anything about cars. He works on them and then sells them after he determines he can’t do any more to them as a project. “He’s probably had 25 cars at least, maybe 30, that he’s owned and sold and not made a dime on any of them,” she said.

Ledbetter recently celebrated her business’ anniversary. The store held its grand opening during the June First Friday Artwalk five years ago.

“I’m here, where I’m supposed to be, for a reason,” she said.

When asked about being in business for five years, she said, “It’s just what I do every day. You just don’t really think about it.”

People are invited to visit the store and create a small piece of fused glass that will be incorporated into a large, contemporary windmill to be displayed in the shop. The business is located in the garden level of the Historic Crane Building at 110 S.E. 8th Ave. Anyone 6 years old and up can go to the store and create art.

For information, visit prairieglassart.com.

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Export: A Growth Area for Small Businesses



According to the U.S. Commercial Service, small businesses “have vast untapped export potential.” Despite the fact that many people associate international trade with large companies, big businesses make up only a small portion of U.S. exporters. Although fewer than 1% of U.S. businesses export, small to medium-sized businesses account for 98% of the number of U.S. businesses exporting. This should encourage small business owners who view the prospect of entering global markets as terribly daunting. Export is not just the purview of large firms. When managed properly, exporting can be advantageous to small businesses with respect to increasing their profitability, being able to expand their number of employees and pay more competitive wages, and also potentially minimizing risks due to with fluctuation in the U.S. economy. (More statistics about U.S. exporting can be found through the U.S. Census Bureau.)

Manufacturing and wholesale exporting are two arenas in which small and medium size businesses are engaged in exporting. It is not just products that can be exported, however. Due to advances in technology, services are a fast growing area for international trade. Travel and tourism, education, graphic design, environmental services, and professional services such as architecture and engineering are some examples of services that can be exported. (Read more about services exported.)  This is definitely something that service-based small businesses should consider.


Washburn University KSBDC is pleased to be bringing The Riddle of The Exporter training to Manhattan on July 28th. John Addessi, Certified Global Business Professional and Business Advisor with the JCCC KSBDC, will present important information that small businesses need for participating successfully in the export market. Topics covered include how to determine which markets to enter, how to handle financial arrangements and work with banks, how to figure out the best freight arrangements, how to manage cultural differences, and more. This seminar is a great introduction for businesses looking to enter the export market with their products or services. It is also an excellent resource for businesses already involved in exporting that are wanting a refresher course or are wanting to expand the knowledge base within their company.

Cost for the seminar (including materials and lunch) is $199. Register here.

STEP (State Trade and Export Promotion) Grants are available for qualifying businesses to help defray costs of attendance. For more information about applying for STEP Grants, contact our office at ksbdc@washburn.edu.

We would like to thank Commerce Bank in Manhattan and the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce for helping us to sponsor The Riddle of The Exporter training.


At the Washburn KSBDC, we provide training and advising on topics of importance to small business owners, including entering and managing export issues.


Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.

Business Advisor

Washburn University

Kansas SBDC

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Social Media and Employer Brand


In the age of social media ubiquity, the world of hiring has undergone (and continues to undergo) drastic changes. Instead of searching newspaper classifieds, many job seekers now do Google searches, check out sites such as Indeed.com and Glassdoor.com, check out reviews of companies as employers, or go directly to their desired employers’ website – though, at this time, newspaper ads may still the best places for trying to fill certain types of positions. Companies can search for talent on Linked-In or boost jobs ads to a targeted demographic group on Facebook.    Being positioned to successfully hire the right employees, however, can require more than just getting a catchy ad in front of the intended audience. Employer brand can influence potential hires and is something to be managed even when there are not current job openings. Moreover, despite the tremendous potential of social media for those involved in hiring, there is also plenty of room for missteps that can explode in a hurry. Safe and effective use of social media requires forethought and smart decisions.

Your employer brand is part of your company image and as such is something that you want to manage. Given this, you want to actively produce content that shows your company in a positive light.

Tips for Polishing Your Employer Brand on Social Media.

• Post about what makes yours a great company.   Is it an industry leader? An industry leader in the region? What is special about the products you make and/or the services you offer? Do you do something unique or innovative? What is your company’s mission? What are its values?What role does it play in the community? Is it beloved in the area? What are things to your employees really appreciate about your company culture?


• Demonstrate that you support your employees.  Show off their professional accomplishments. Highlight professional development opportunities and career paths within the company. What are special perks that your employees appreciate? What distinguishes you from other employers? What events do your employees really enjoy? How is it that what you have to offer employees not just another job? What is it that you have that employees are looking for?

• Choose the right social media platforms, relative to the type of content that you are sharing, the image that you want to promote, and the audience that you want to reach. For example, blogs on company websites are great places to feature professional achievements and professional development opportunities and allow you to share the content on Linked-In and Facebook. Pinterest and Instagram, on the other hand, might be a great places to show off gorgeous pictures of your products.

Further Tips to Keep in Mind

• Recognize that you do not have complete control over your employer brand and know how to respond effectively and appropriately when it seems out of control.

• Educate your employees, at all levels, about your rules, guidelines and best practices for their work-related and their personal social media use. Anytime any employee gets on social media, that employee is potentially representing your company. Developing and implementing a sensible social media policy that fits your company’s mission and values, and is appropriate for its industry, can save pain all around.

• Don’t be overzealous in trying to restrict your employees’ social media use. The National Labor Relations Act protects “concerted activities,” i.e. activities in which 2+ employees are organized to improve their work conditions. So, though as an employer you may have a legitimate interest in controlling what information your employees share on social media, there are limits to what you can prohibit.


• When crafting and boosting your ads, and looking at candidates’ profiles on social media keep in mind the provisions of the Equal Employment Opportunities Act. Avoid potentially discriminatory practices that open your business up to lawsuits.

• Remember that social media are still rapidly evolving and that your social media strategies and policies need to be updated as platforms, user behaviors, and legislation change.

Businesses must be willing and able to adapt to the changing cultures in which they exist, but in the hurry to get ahead of the competition (or at least to keep up with it), such as by getting out front in social media marketing of job opportunities, they need to remember to play it smart.


Related Posts


Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.

Business Advisor

Washburn University

Kansas SBDC

Posted in Employees, human resources, social media/marketing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

5 Rules of Design

The line between good design and bad design can be crossed by simply using the wrong font. Design, just like any other profession out there, has rules to it, and breaking those rules can be the difference in getting a sale or losing a sale.

There is a long list of design rules that one should follow, but to keep things simple, I have outlined my top 5 rules of design that should never be broken.

  1. Design for your audience
    If you’re holding a kid-friendly event, for example, and you want to create a poster to advertise said event, always keep in mind who your target audience is: Parents with children. In this situation, you want to avoid any cursive font or sleek, modern designs. This is for kids! Design a poster for a children’s event. Below is an example:

Image provided by Canva

Take a look at the poster on the left. A quick glance and it wouldn’t immediately register to you that this is a poster for a children’s event, whereas the poster on the right has a more kid-friendly vibe. It’s important to think about your target audience and create designs that will resonate with that audience.

  1. Don’t use too many fonts in one design
    If you have 4 or 5 different fonts for a poster or flyer, it can come across as messy and unorganized, which is less likely to draw in any interested consumers. Most design experts recommend sticking to no more that 2-3 fonts in a single design. That said, be sure those fonts compliment each other.

Image provided by Canva

  1. White space is not always negative space
    When creating a poster or flyer, seeing too much white space can seem like a bad thing. It’s easy to think, “there should be more on this page, it looks too empty.” Don’t think of it this way! You can properly utilize white space in a design to your advantage. It can help create a sleek, less cluttered look if done right. A proper use of white space is pictured below.

15_White-Space1-tb-662x0Image provided by Canva

  1. Don’t use too many effects
    When it comes to design, sometimes keeping it simple is best. As a follow up from tip #3, keeping things simple can be more beneficial than overcrowding. Having too many graphic effects can muddle your content and distract readers from the message you’re trying to convey.

    20_TooManyEffects1-tb-662x0Image provided by Canva

  2. Avoid color clashing
    When you clash colors that don’t compliment each other, it can create a “vibrating” effect that makes it difficult for the reader to find the line between colors. To avoid color clashing, choose colors that have a high degree of contrast – it will create a clean, simple, and easily identified color line in your designs.

14_ColourDiscord1-tb-662x0Image provided by Canva

Mindy Lee
Advisor/Marketing Coordinator
Washburn University
America’s SBDC

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