Wednesday, September 29, 2010

We Get Questions

Interesting questions from readers recently, including an Indian freight forwarding company looking to partner with Western counterparts and someone needing a definition for an elusive bit of jargon.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Unguarded Henhouse

I've been waiting for someone to cover the media story related to the Bell corruption scandal here in Southern California. And by media story I mean, "Where was the media?" when these shenanigans were going on for so many years?

Where were the watchdog reporters and tough local newspapers that used to hold these small, poorly run municipalities to task, by listening to complaints from residents or even just by showing up for "meetings" that lasted all of 30 seconds?

Answer: They've gone the way of the dinosaur and been replaced by "new media" which - surprise - didn't do the job.

What's interesting is that it took NPR to tell the story. And NPR, a publicly funded nonprofit, is sadly one of the last, best "old media" outlets around.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Where Are the Women?

Yesterday, I was one of three women on a 15-member judges panel for the GSEA student entrepreneur awards at USC. It was an interesting and inspiring event, but the two other female judges and I couldn't help but notice that all six contestants were young men. The business school dean at USC apparently has a tough time getting women to sign up as business majors, let alone start companies in school and compete in rigorous, international contests.

Today at BusinessWeek, we feature an annual survey of the 25 most promising entrepreneurs under 25. I contributed by writing about how young entrepreneurs can get funding.

The slideshow presents an impressive and creative group, many of them former college roommates, but something stuck out as I clicked through the list. There is one - count 'em, ONE - woman included. And her business is a partnership with a male entrepreneur.

Every day, it seems, I get pitched about "mommy entrepreneurs" - women who have young children and decide to run home-based businesses to accommodate their families. That's wonderful, I'm thrilled for them, but I have to wonder why so few young women study business and start companies when it would be much easier and more logical: Before they have spouses and children!

It's sad for me, in this day and age, to see how sparse the participation of women is in the business world. I realize that entrepreneurship, in particular, is a big risk that takes swagger, self-confidence and - some might say - "balls." I just hope that's not literally true.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The New One-Armed Bandits

Business owners hate it when new expenses crop up. The biggest one for many entrepreneurs is the monthly mobile phone bill.

A few years ago, nobody paid a dime for cell phones, let alone smart phone service. Now, many businesses are finding that they must issue BlackBerrys - or at least mobiles - to all their employees. Yes, they do great things and help improve communications and productivity, but they often add a big chunk to the expense column.

This week, I interview a cellular phone expert about how small businesses should manage their cell phone plans and audit their bills.

In the course of researching the column, my own cell phone bill came up. Mindy, the expert, said that my per-unit cost (take your total expense and divide by the number of mobile phone lines you have) was pretty reasonable.

In digging deeper, however, she noted that I wasn't using the full minutes on the plan I had, and could probably downgrade to a less-expensive plan without going over the usage limit. She also advised that I cancel a video-streaming service that I wasn't using, but that was costing me $15/month.

Mindy's recommendations got me thinking. I got out my land line bill and looked it over, only to find that I was still paying for call waiting and line insurance on my home phone, which almost never rings these days. In fact, we'd been thinking about dropping it altogether.

My son, who is honing his negotiating skills for a possible job in business, got on the telephone. Verizon tried to talk us out of downgrading our plan, but he held firm and saved us $25/month. AT&T, whose customer service reps are not likely to be on commission (as Verizon's are), not only happily revoked the services we weren't using, but they also recommended a new long-distance plan that will provide unlimited calls at less monthly cost.

Cha-ching! Another $20 in monthly savings. What's the lesson here? Whether you run a small business, are self-employed or are just looking to reduce your household budget, take a few minutes to look over the little things. You can't do it all at once, so maybe this month comb through your phone bills. Next month, see if there's room to save somewhere else.

In this economy, every little bit counts.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A New Gig

Happy - nay, very happy - to announce that I'm going to be writing entrepreneur-focused features for a brand-new venue, Bloomberg's Entrepreneurs page.

Here's my first contribution, on the solar panel king of California, Danny Kennedy.

Yes, I'll still be doing my columns at Bloomberg BusinessWeek and the L.A. Times.

Back from a spontaneous summer break, but I'll be updating my goings-on at those places shortly.