Monday, June 28, 2010

An Elephant's Eye

Summer is here, and so is garden blogging!

That's my corn, which looks like it will be yielding about 10 bushels by Labor Day. (Of course I can say that, since I have no idea how much a bushel actually is!)

This is the first time I've grown corn in about 12 years. Last time I tried it, I learned that you have to plant a bunch of corn seedlings in a grid plot. That's because corn is a wind pollinator, so the wheat-like pollen at the top has to blow down onto the silk tassels on the ears in order for the kernels to form.

I also learned that if you mist the tassels with a little oil (or Pam spray), it prevents those fat, nasty corn worms from growing in (and eating) your corn cobs. The tassels get slippery, and the worm eggs don't stick! Organic farming solutions: Gotta love 'em.

I'm also growing green beans (the star of last summer's garden), cucumbers (the clown of last year's garden), zucchini, sunflowers, three kinds of peppers and honeydew melon.

Tomatoes, you ask?

My tomatoes were disappointing last year. Low yields, mostly. This year's crop doesn't look much better, though one small fruit is starting to ripen. I do have some heirlooms planted, however, so I'm pinning my hopes on them.

The big addition this year is a blueberry bush that I picked up at the L.A. Arboretum garden show a month or so ago. You aren't supposed to be able to grow blueberries in Southern California, but this is a new variety developed for our hot summers and mild winters.

We'll see. So far, the ripening berries are pretty tart. If I leave them on the bush too long, they disappear. I fear that a raccoon is plucking them with his little prehensile fingers. A couple of my early zucchinis were severed from the vine, gnawed up and dumped in the dirt last week.

Anybody have organic farming critter control solutions?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Giving Before You Get

I hear from lots of companies that want to get noticed in the media. Most of them are looking to get publicity and new clients.

Fewer actually follow the best advice, which is to give, give, give and then expect good things to come back to you.

When I do come across someone using the giving model, I'll let you know about it. Here's one, Blue Fountain Media, which has an online presence, and includes a page devoted to really excellent advice for entrepreneurs looking to use social media and other online marketing tools.

Are they basically giving away their expertise? Yes they are. But just by doing so, they engender good will and develop a sense of trust with potential clients. And at the end of their tips they make sure to give readers a way to contact them and do business, if they'd like. It's never a hard sell, which is an immediate turn off.

This is the way to sell services these days, and I suspect it will be for the near future. More of us should take note.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Uncle Sam Wants (To Buy From) You

The U.S. government is the world's largest single purchaser of goods and services, spending more than $500 billion annually. Add to that the additional billions being spent from last year's stimulus bill, and you've got a pretty robust marketplace for small business goods and services.

But nearly half of small business owners say they don't know whether the government buys their product or service. And they have no idea how to sell to the government even if the demand is there.

No wonder the government does not meet its (soft, unenforced) mandates to buy from small business. I lay out some tactics and tips for remedying the situation in this Smart Answers column

Friday, June 11, 2010

Entrepreneur Love

Today's Smart Answers column is all about the latest American hero: The small business owner.

But does that admiration translate to the bottom line, or is it just theoretical?

Click the link to get the answers, and to read about a local SGV business owner's brush with stardom.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Power to the People

Prop. 16, PG&E's cynical gambit to establish a long-lasting monopoly on California's energy markets, has gone down to defeat.

The Northern California electricity giant outspent consumer advocates $1,000-to-$1 and they still lost decisively. Woo-hoo!

I say it time and time again: Never underestimate the intelligence of the electorate. This one was an epic battle and one that I will take comfort in for some time to come.

Here's the dramatic tale of how the results trickled in during the wee hours this morning:

Pretty soon, our three-point loss became a one-point lead – and there was a palpable sense in the air that we could win it. I wasn’t convinced yet – scouring the L.A. County numbers to see if this positive trend in our favor was not going to start reversing itself.

When 58% of L.A. County had been counted, we were ahead there. I got up, and boldly shouted that we had won. It reminded me of the scene in Milk, when Jim Rivaldo tells Harvey Milk not to worry about the Briggs Initiative. L.A. County had just come in, and we were going to win. By now, I was sure that we had slain the Prop 16 dragon.

I only wish I could have been there to see happen live.

Post-script: The other big industry-funded proposition, Prop. 17, was also defeated, this time in a major rebuke to Big Insurance.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Misner Q&A

As promised, here is BNI CEO Ivan Misner's take on what entrepreneurs are doing wrong when it comes to social media marketing.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Sad Ending

I'm sure that veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas never dreamed she'd go out this way.

Over the years, Helen was a journalistic role model and a favorite person. She was characteristically feisty in her watchdog role, no matter which party was in power. She had a great sense of humor and was never afraid to skewer her own importance. An NPR special about how she broke down barriers in the early years of female reporters was an inspiration.

More than a decade ago, I saw her lecture at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. About one-third of the way into her talk, she began rustling papers at the podium, then shuffling them around fiercely. A few moments later, as her speech turned disjointed and a little odd, I realized she had mixed up her pages and was reading them out of order.

Ever the pro, she soldiered on, never letting on that she was flustered. And the speech, full of funny anecdotes and interesting memories, worked even though it was a little jumbled up.

I always say that I'll keep on writing and working as long as I'm able to put fingers to keyboard. But Helen's situation makes me wonder if that's a good idea. I think many people get to a certain age and they feel they've earned the right to say whatever comes to mind, politically incorrect or not.

That bluntness got the better of Helen Thomas, finally, and I'm sorry for it. I hope some friends give her the retirement party she deserves.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Local Connection

Interviewed Ivan Misner, founder and chairman of BNI, this morning about social networking "best practices." In contrast to a lot of big shots I interview (BNI claims to be the world's largest business networking organization, with 5,600 chapters worldwide, and Misner's been called the "Father of Networking" by CNN), it would be hard to find a nicer guy.

On the phone at least, Misner comes across as genuine, down-to-earth and funny. When we discovered a local connection (he lives in Claremont), he stopped for a 10-minute chat on restaurants. For the record, he recommends Tutti Mangia and Aruffo's Italian Cuisine, and he commented favorably on Yianni's, a Greek place I went to just last weekend.

Turns out that Misner started BNI in 1985 in Arcadia. In fact, the founding chapter still meets at the Coco's on Santa Anita! The second chapter started a few weeks later in Pasadena and things spread from there. Misner said it was one year and 20 chapters later when he finally figured out he had created a phenomenon and sat down to write a business plan for it.

The group operates on the philosophy that networking is about giving, and relationship building, rather than selling and promotion. True to his word, before we wrapped up the interview, Misner was mentioning that he knows loads of business owners and would be happy to connect me with some if I ever need sources.

Definitely a class act. The interview was very interesting, too. I'll post a link here when it is published next week.