Friday, July 31, 2009

Letting Go

You may recall my determination to raise "freerange kids."

Of course, even the most successful freerangers grow up and leave home - something I face this fall when both my young men will head off to college.

Here's a beautifully written, and bittersweet, story of one father's coming to grips with the inevitable, by Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson.

Warning: May cause misty eyes and runny noses.

(h/t Steve Scauzillo)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Business Boot Camp

I defy you to find a better bargain than the one being offered through the Women In Business program this year at the Women's City Club of Pasadena.

They're putting together a "Dream Business Program" that takes entrepreneurs through all the building blocks of starting, growing and operating a business. It's a 26-week course that will help you write a business plan, come up with an elevator pitch for your business and go through a "fast-pitch" program with a group of your peers.

The cost? $50 to cover materials and the purchase of a textbook. You also have to do your homework and get the best out of the time and work you put into the course.

Can you imagine? You can't afford to miss out on this, if you want to start a business or even if you already have a business and you need to go back and do some foundational work that you may have glossed over during start up.

Donna Chaney is organizing the course, so contact her for more information. She's Donna at ChaneyFinancialServicesInc dot com.

Blog With Integrity

A few weeks ago I did a story on Mommy Bloggers and how entrepreneurs can market through them. The piece mentioned the uncomfortable problem of sometimes-squishy ethics among bloggers.

For instance, if you are providing product samples or freebies to bloggers, do they have an obligation to their readers to disclose that? If they're reviewing your products, will they be influenced by your gifts?

A group of bloggers has come up with a way to provide bloggers with a "tangible and collective way to express our commitment to a simple code of blogging conduct," blogger Susan Getgood wrote me recently.

The four women bloggers involved call their project, launched this month, Blog With Integrity. They aim to "frame the discussion in a positive fashion, focusing on simple things like respect, responsibility and disclosure. No commercial sponsors, no companies, no agencies. Just the community," Getgood said via email.

Their idea is for bloggers to take their integrity pledge and display their badge on site. You can read more background about the pledge on the group's website.

Here's the pledge:

By displaying the Blog with Integrity badge or signing the pledge, I assert that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is important to me.

I treat others respectfully, attacking ideas and not people. I also welcome respectful disagreement with my own ideas.

I believe in intellectual property rights, providing links, citing sources, and crediting inspiration where appropriate.

I disclose my material relationships, policies and business practices. My readers will know the difference between editorial, advertorial, and advertising, should I choose to have it. If I do sponsored or paid posts, they are clearly marked.

When collaborating with marketers and PR professionals, I handle myself professionally and abide by basic journalistic standards.

I always present my honest opinions to the best of my ability.

I own my words. Even if I occasionally have to eat them.

I've taken the pledge. Will you!?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Garden Blogging

Our organic garden is chugging right along, producing tomatoes, green beans, eggplant and a plethora of crunchy, delicious cucumbers.

As you can see above, however, these cukes don't look like the ones you see in the store. They have been really long, thin and they come in crazy shapes, like the corkscrew variety I'm holding here:

Weird, huh!? Good thing I don't care what they look like, as long as they are tasty.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Absolutely Free!

I mentioned "Hit the Ground Running," the book authored by the expert I interviewed this week on my podcast, Jason Jennings. It's the story of how top CEOs quickly make a big, positive impact on their companies.

They sent me a copy and I've read it, so I'd be happy to give it to a blog reader who can benefit from it.

I think it'd also be interesting to read the opposite book, the one about how quickly new CEOs can run a company into the ground and why. Sort of a cautionary tale.

Jason and I talked about this and he said he's pitched a couple of books from the "lessons learned" side of things, but his publishers never go for it. I guess they think the public can only handle happy endings.

I think they're selling Americans short, frankly. People love to read about how others screw up, especially if they can avoid mistakes as a result. The Los Angeles Times used to have a regular feature on personal finance that chronicled how people got into debt, how much trouble they were in and what they could do to dig themselves out.

I never missed it!

Email me with your address if you want Jason Jennings' book and I'll ship it out ASAP. You can get my email address by clicking on "view my complete profile" in the right-hand column under my picture.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Save Money - And The Planet

My Los Angeles Times column today lists several ideas for an entrepreneur concerned about both the environment - and her budget.

My source, green business writer Kim Carlson, has lots of additional tips that I didn't have room to include in the column. Here are a few:

*Use plants to do double duty bringing nature indoors while cleaning the air. Put them near copiers, faxes and other machines that emit ozone.

*Re-use one-sided, discarded copy paper for printing out notes and rough drafts. I do this all the time and go through very little paper, despite the fact that I still print out a lot of items (I just like having a hard copy, what can I say?). Re-using paper can reduce your paper cost by 20% to 35%, Kim says.

*Put recycling containers at every workstation, along with wastebaskets. Provide receptacles for recycling cardboard, plastic bottles and cans as well as paper.

*If you move your business, locate an existing office building or repurposed warehouse space rather than building a new structure.

*Deconstruct outdated square footage rather than tearing it down using a demolition crew. "Selling or donating used construction materials cuts down on waste and keeps old building components in use," Kim says.

In the mid-80s we lived in a neighborhood with a lot of historic bungalows. One of our favorite activities was scavenging tear-down sites for old architectural and design treasures. We salvaged some brass fireplace andirons from one place that we still have. And we picked up some lovely glass-paned French doors that we used in a home addition.

The Domain Name Business

A column I wrote last week, about the buying and selling of domain names, is getting a lot of feedback and has been picked up from Nevada to India.

I run across a lot of empty websites that seem to exist just to display ads and recycle content. Hard to believe they're really making any money.

But Jeremiah Johnston, whom I interviewed for the story, says domain name expenses are so minimal (a $10 annual fee for many) that even buying and holding them can be a good investment.

Of course, if you improve the site, add some content and attract regular visitors, you can add to that investment substantially.

How'd You Do That?

In this week's podcast interview, I chat with an author who studied fast growth companies.

Jason Jennings, a long-time entrepreneur who started writing business books and speaking to business owners several years ago, identified dozens of companies where CEOs came in and made big, positive impacts in a short timeframe.

Then he narrowed his list down to the top few and interviewed each of the CEO's to answer the question: "How'd you do that?"

What he found is fascinating. Each of these highly effective, highly efficient CEOs bucked the traditional mold and did things that might at first seem counterintuitive, but turned out to be brilliant.

Listen to the interview to get more info. By the way, you can listen to my podcast at the BusinessWeek website (look for "featured podcast" on the SmallBiz page) or you can do what I do: Subscribe (free!) at iTunes and listen on your iPod while you're doing something like walking, biking or lifting weights at the gym.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Down, But Not Out

As the recession drags on - "green shoots" notwithstanding - a lot of entrepreneurs are becoming very discouraged.

I answer a question from one of them in today's Smart Answers column.

Maybe things aren't quite as bad as he thinks.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Weekend Thought

"It's time for greatness, not for greed. It's a time for idealism, not ideology. It is a time not just for compassionate words, but compassionate action."

--Marian Wright Edelman

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


My podcast guest a few weeks back was Nathan Egan, formerly one of the early execs at LinkedIn.

He talked about how social media isn't going away, so small business owners had better learn to use it. Their competitors certainly are!

He's now got a new resource online called Freesourcing.

It's a business directory for free, online resources for small business owners (and others). Search on a term such as "sales" and you'll get a list of related free services and products, what they do and what others think of them.

The site is just getting started (it's in beta mode) but it could be really terrific if it takes off. I've often noted that there are loads of great freebies online but it's not easy to sift through them all and find the truly useful - and truly free - ones.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Getting Desperate?

Many small business owners are hitting the desperation button about now.

They've used up their reserves, lowered their prices and beat the bushes for new customers.

But those revenues just aren't rolling in and their credit lines are being cancelled. Things have gotten so bad, even the New York Times is noticing.

I hope that entrepreneurs are not so strapped that they're falling for unethical - and potentially illegal - schemes like "shelf corporations."

Never heard of them? Neither had I. But I write about them in this week's Smart Answers column.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Carving Up the Company

Debt financing is nearly always tough for small businesses to obtain, and particularly so right now.

What's a struggling small business owner to do if she can't get a loan to finance a great new opportunity, or just make payroll?

Options like equity investors look all the more attractive right now.

But what does it take to attract private investment of outside capital, and what do investors expect in return?

I answer those questions - and more - in my Smart Answers column today. Check it out!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I've Got An Idea

There’s a world of blood, sweat and tears that separates a great b­­usiness idea from a great business. That’s why - with few exceptions - people don’t buy ideas. After all, ideas are a dime a dozen, right?

So, what can you do with your great idea? If you’re like most people, you’ll forget about it until the day you see that someone else has turned it into a reality. If you’re not like most people, you’ll become obsessed with the idea to the point where you know you have to find a way to add value to the idea, whether that means patenting it, licensing it or starting a company to market it.

If you’re in the latter category, put together a plan to go with your idea. It doesn’t have to be a full business plan. Start with a proof of concept that explains what your idea is, how it will generate revenue, what kinds of operating expenses you’ll incur producing it or pursuing it and what your competition will be. What unmet need will your product or service fulfill? Why will customers buy it instead of buying your competitors’ products?

If you feel that your idea is a can't miss, pursue intellectual property protection for it and share it with a few trusted colleagues – preferably people already in business for themselves. Ask them to sign “non-disclosure” agreements before you lay out the idea.

Don’t get sucked in by phony inventor or patenting schemes that fleece na├»ve would-be entrepreneurs for thousands every year by flattery and flat-out fraud.

If you really have an innovative, promising business idea, and you’re driven to pursue it, you’ll be able to prove the concept, protect the idea legally and either license it to an existing business or round up the funding that will allow you to take the idea to market yourself, perhaps with a more knowledgeable business partner.

More information on protecting and commercializing your business ideas can be found at the National Inventor Fraud Center.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Failing to Deal

When his father's small business closed its doors after many years, Dean Shepherd was devastated.

But that was nothing compared to how his father felt, Shepherd says in this week's Smart Answers podcast.

With so many small businesses shutting down these days, it's important to find coping skills for failure, Shepherd says.

Many entrepreneurs must have learned that lesson. I remember several years ago coming across a study that showed that the most successful entrepreneurs have failed early on in their careers and come back to try again, getting it right the second - or third - time.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Coordinate or Pay Up

I've never taken out a business loan (start up costs for a self-employed writer not being terrifically huge), but I have had mortgages and refinanced them a couple of times.

I remember a mad scramble on at least one occasion to ensure that a loan payoff went through on the same day that our new home loan was scheduled to open.

We all sat in the mortgage office on tenterhooks as our broker called around and we waited for faxed confirmations to come over the phone lines.

Not having someone ride herd on loan coordination - and it seemed like some luck was also involved - can land you in the situation covered this week in my Smart Answers column.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Get Ready, Get Set

I hate to come back from a long weekend with bad news, but I'm afraid it's out there.

Remember that swine flu epidemic that we were hearing so much about a few months ago?

Well, the media spotlight has moved on to other things - like the national hourly Michael Jackson update (don't get me started).

But the new strain of flu has quietly become a global health concern that is building strength in the southern hemisphere's chill and is likely to return to North America by fall.

Now's the time to get prepared, public health officials say.

Southern Californians should always have emergency supplies on hand as part of our earthquake preparedness. It's a good bet that a well-stocked earthquake kit will have a lot of the supplies needed for a flu pandemic also, but I know it's time to update my own.

I don't have nearly enough food stockpiled to last two weeks, however, which is what is recommended in case of a severe flu outbreak. If you have college students, as I do, they should have food on hand also.

Here's a good general pandemic readiness site and comprehensive list of links and resources.

Now's the time to lay the groundwork - just in case this bug turns even nastier later in the year.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Back to Work

Right now, the job market is as tight as it's been for a long, long time. It must be terribly discouraging for this spring's college grads.

Even my older son, who just finished his first year at college, has been unable to find a summer job. The best he's been able to do is work a few weekends for a local restaurant owner who takes a booth to special events. He worked eight hours yesterday at an American Idol tryout and was grateful to be squeezing lemons and making fries!

He also signed up with a temp agency, but so far has not gotten any assignments.

A friend's college son filled out an application for a graveyard shift job as a retail store shelf-stocker. He was hopeful, until he was told that 27 others had already applied!

Here's a website that is "helping put Americans back to work" with a series of national job fairs.

Check out one if you're on the market.

Garden Bounty

I hoped to start harvesting veggies from the garden this week, and we have!

Here's a sample of the goodness - and it's barely summer:

We will be well-fed this summer, no doubt about it.

I took the White Beauty eggplant and Cue Ball zucchini above, cut them in half, hollowed them out and stuffed them with sauteed vegetables and bread crumbs, topped with parmesan cheese. You can add some crumbled, cooked sausage or ground meat, but they make a nice vegetarian side dish also.

Have a great holiday weekend, everyone! I'm taking a couple days off. :-)