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The Vote Counts: Small Business Mission

From a boutique to a life coach, small businesses in your town are hoping you will vote them into the final round of competition. Better hurry - voting ends Saturday at midnight.

The Vote Counts: Small Business Mission The Vote Counts: Small Business Mission

For a small business $250,000 isn't just big money, it's life changing money.

That's why hunderds of business owners around the country, and right here in Monmouth County, are social networking their thumbs off to get you to throw your vote behind their next business idea.

Chase and Living Social have launched Mission: Small Business with the intent of giving away up to $3 million in 12 grants of $250,000 each, to those business owners who show not just a good plan, but how their venture will benefit the community and create jobs.

The catch is that to even be considered, each one must get 250 votes through the Mission: Small Business Web site.

A business of encouragement

Patricia Phelan Clapp is a life coach from Fair Haven who also works as a writer (you can see Clapp's blog on Patch), business coach and social media consultant. She loves her work guiding otherwise successful people who have found themselves adrift and in need of some focus and a plan to get their lives back on track.

But it's her latest idea, the one she happened on accidentally, that is keeping her up at night. "I sit up straight in the middle of the night and think, 'This idea is too big for me!'"

Clapp once only coached women who were reeling from divorce and tried to get her clients to find their real selves and discover what they wanted out of life, rather than focus on what they had lost.

A divorced and single mom herself, she asked herself, "What if we got them before they went off track?" And so was born the idea of creating empowering workshops for women, which led to a version tailored for teens to, as she puts it, help them "battle the fish lips and bikinis of Facebook" that bombard young girls today.

Her first workshops were a huge success, prompting her to continue work with a focus group of teenagers to develop the idea to include a workbook and training program for a national model. She also wants to translate it to a character education program for schools.

A large part of Clapp's inspiration is her 15-year-old daughter Maddie. Here's what Maddie had to say about her mom's work called, Project E.N.O.U.G.H.:

"From my mom's helpful tips and so called 'homework assignments,' she can help us girls become ourselves again. I know my mom just wants to show us that we are put into this world for a reason and to embrace our inner qualities to prove that we aren't supposed to be like the 'Kardashians' and all the other girls following their foot steps.

"I truly think I can start a movement to help educate these young woman on making good deicsions, the right choices and stop worrying about negative body images," Clapp said.

But starting a movement is hard for a one woman show. And that's why she's looking to the Mission: Small Business grant to give her the means to hire five to six people to get the curriculumn, Web site and marketing off the ground.

So far Clapp is just 23 votes shy of the required 250 she needs for grant consideration.

A bid to monetize your stuff

In an entirely different business sector Jennifer Maddalena, of Oceanport, is in the same race to get her 250 votes. Maddalena operated on Broad Street in Shrewsbury, a boutique specializing in high end hand bags and shoes.

When she learned about the grant a few days ago from a Facebook friend she pounced on the opportunity to launch a new aspect of her business she has been dreaming about. Overnight she whipped together an application and garnered about 118 votes (as of Thursday evening).

She's looking to hire more staff to boost her online sales, give her Web presence a facelift and get some national exposure. She's also looking to start buying certain goods, like a Channel bag, directly from consigners, so they will be more likely to bring in those items on a regular basis.

But with this grant, you need a community hook. Maddalena, a former stock broker, already uses her business to help charities by providing fashion shows for their events, but at a cost to her of about $1,000 each, she asks, "How many can I logically do in a a quarter?"

To give in a new way she wants to help those non-profits turn donated goods into cash in a time where cash donations are harder to come by. For instance, a customer could donate an item to her store which she would, in turn, sell, passing on the bulk of the profit to say the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

In this economy, people might not have the money they used to, she said, "But they have a lot of stuff, and they don't realize how much it's worth."

Many locals want your vote

These women aren't the only ones seizing the chance to grow their businesses. In Long Branch, Andrea Phox Photography and  Crave Kitchens have already secured more than 250 votes. Vincentvideo.com has 110 votes for his venture to explore historic Route 66.

In Red Bank , a social networking company, and Rare Breed Footwear have cleared the hurtle. Still looking for votes is Yummy Good (at Funk & Standard Variety Store) and the law office of Ernest Anemone, which provides sliding scale legal services to low income families.

In Oceanport, Abilities in Action, which provides a variety of therapies for infants and children, has about 168 votes.

For all the businesses, the chance at $250,000 might be the key to the next big idea. As Maddalena said, "I've actually had this idea cooking for a couple of years in my head. I just didn't know how to launch it."

You can help launch any of the small businesses mentioned here, or search for others you know here. Voting ends at midnight on Saturday.

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