Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The New "Gig" Economy

Check out this interesting post by Chaz Austin, a new friend-of-a-friend.

His premise is that work in the 21st century will be about moving from project to project and finding places where you can add value, as well as benefit yourself.

I figured all this out 22 years ago this summer, when I quit my job and decided to try out self-employment "for a few years." Most of my friends are also freelancers and they've had to master this as well.

Interesting to think about more and more people having to do the same.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Five Myths

Read Kristie Arslan's Five Myths about Small Businesses at HuffPo.

Kristie, executive director of the National Association for the Self-Employed, is one of my best sources. She a fount of information and a dynamo of activity working on behalf of self-employed folks and small business owners.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Finding Freelancers

One question I get over and over again from small business owners is where to find freelance marketers, PR people, publicists, graphic artists, writers and editors.

MarketingZone has done a survey and compiled an absolute wealth of information and advice on hiring freelancers, where to find good ones and what to pay them.

Check this site out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Top 10 Threats

We've been talking about fraud, security and privacy concerns for small business. Here's a list of the Top 10 threats facing small business and inexpensive ways to fix them, from MyID.com:

1. Data Breach Resulting From Poor Networking Choices

Enterprise-level networking software is used in large corporations, but the price tags often are prohibitive for small or medium businesses. If these businesses have networks at all, they may use networking devices targeted at home users. Some may forgo the use of routers at all, plugging directly into the Internet. Business owners can block most threats by using a quality router, like a NETGEAR or Buffalo brand router and making sure to change the router password from the default.

2. Data Breach Resulting From Improper Shredding Practices

Dumpster-diving identity thieves target businesses that throw out paperwork without shredding it. Most home shredders will suffice for small businesses in a pinch, but a commercial shredder is a wise investment if private information is printed and shredded daily.

3. Identity Theft Resulting From Public Databases

Individuals, especially business owners, often publish lots of information about themselves in public databases. Businesses are registered with the county clerk, telephone numbers are in the phone book, many individuals have Facebook profiles with their address and date of birth. Many identity thieves can use information searchable publicly to construct a complete identity.

4. Identity Theft Resulting from Using a Personal Name Instead of Filing a DBA

Sole-proprietors that do not take the time to file a "Doing Business As" application are at a far higher risk of identity theft due to their personal name, rather than their business names, being published publicly.

5. Tax Records Theft Around Tax Time

Businesses must ensure that tax returns are dropped off at the post office and refunds are collected promptly from the mailbox. Identity thieves often steal tax returns from an outbox or mailbox.

6. Bank Fraud Due To Gap in Protection or Monitoring

Business owners know that it is vital to balance their accounts every month to ensure that checks are not being written out of business funds by embezzlers, but many businesses rarely, if ever, check what kind of credit accounts have been opened under the business name. Monitoring services like myID.com can alert business owners when new credit accounts are opened fraudulently.

7. Poor E-mailing Standards

Many businesses treat e-mails as confidential communications, but this is far from the case. They are available to a number of people other than the recipient. It's more appropriate to treat e-mails as postcards, rather than sealed letters.

8. Failing to Choose a Secure Password

In fact, many security experts are recommending the use of a pass phrase, rather than a password. Pass phrases are several words long, at least three, and are far more secure than passwords. A pass phrase like "friday blue jeans" can be typed far quicker than a complicated password, and it doesn't need to be written down on a post-it.

9. Not Securing New Computers or Hard Drives

Businesses that had their IT system professionally installed may opt to upgrade a computer or two by themselves. This is strongly discouraged on a business network, as new computers must be professionally secured or else they pose a serious threat and an entry point for hackers.

10. Social Engineering

Social engineers are individuals that call and claim they are from another organization. They may even claim to be with a firm that a business owner does business with. If someone you do not know calls on the phone, be sure that it is the person you think it is before revealing passwords or confidential information

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lessons Learned

Seems that several people I know have been in car accidents this year.

Thankfully, no one was badly injured. But the shock, and the financial/emotional aftermath is pretty awful even if physical injury is at a minimum.

One friend, Tom Lenzo, had his Infiniti totalled in a freeway accident last February. He walked away, but as a safety/security expert, human resources trainer and all-around meticulous guy, he put a lot of thought into what happened.

Here are the tips he graciously shared with friends after the event. As Tom says, I hope you never need them:

Seatbelt – on and tight.

Cell phone - clipped on my belt and available; not in the trunk or on a seat where it wouldn’t be reachable.

Cell phone camera – too shaken to remember how to use it as I rarely did. Practicing to make sure that never happens again.

Phone numbers - as a member, I have the AAA emergency number and their insurance number programmed into my cell, as well as my client’s number so they knew I wouldn’t be coming in that day.

Stuff inside the car - several years ago I saw a pickup truck get flipped on its roof. As I helped the occupants out of their vehicle, they were covered with all the stuff they had inside the cab. Because of that, I only had my briefcase and it was on the passenger floor.

Flashlight – in the glove-box and it worked. Problem: it was an old bulb model and not very bright. I replaced it with a Maglite and put the old one in the trunk as it has the same size batteries as the Maglite.

Paper and pen – since I was en-route to work, I had a large pad and pen that I used write down the other driver’s information and to take notes. I now have a pad and pens in the car.

Taking Notes – while I waited for the tow truck, I began writing down everything I could remember about what happened, since time can dim a memory. I included weather, times, names, descriptions, etc.

Cash on hand – I only had app. $8 in my wallet and the tow truck took cash, not credit cards. Now I keep some emergency cash on hand.

Tell folks what happened – I sent e-mails about the accident to friends and colleagues. Some responses had suggestions based on accidents they had or because they worked in the insurance industry. Those replies have helped.

Insurance papers – coincidentally, I had cleaned out all my insurance papers that are in my filing cabinet a few weeks earlier. It was then easy to find the documents I needed that day.

Interacting with insurance companies – whenever I talked with any of the three insurance companies involved (mine, the driver who caused the accident, and the third driver she hit), I took detailed notes. When they interviewed me, I agreed based on the condition that I would receive a copy of the transcript.

Care and Feeding of Sales Reps

Check out my column on independent sales reps at the FutureSimple blog today.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Negotiate From Strength

There are many explanations for why women don't advance sufficiently in business.

One of them is that women don't play hard ball during negotiations like men do.

One of the workshops I was sad to miss at the Invent Your Future conference last month was about negotiating.

Now it's being offered online, for a reasonable $25. Eat at your desk next week and pick up some invaluable tools that are tailored to female entrepreneurs and professional women.

We can all use a refresher on this topic.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Survey Says

Things are looking up for small biz. Some results from the Constant Contact 2011 Small Business Survey.

On the economy:
• More than half of those surveyed saw an increase in revenues in 2010
• A whopping 4 of 5 of respondents expect to see an increase in revenues in 2011

Online marketing:
• Email remains the lynchpin of online programs, with nearly all respondents using email and almost ¾ checking it multiple times per day
• Facebook is definitely “Liked” – 95% of those using social media use the tool, with 82% finding it effective

Expect 2011 growth:
• In 2010, 77% of small businesses remained flat or saw an increase in revenues
• 82 % of small businesses expect to see an increase in revenues in the next 12 months

Remaining challenges: attracting new customers, generating referrals, and making marketing dollars go further top the list of concerns

Traditional marketing rules:
o 79% find email marketing to be effective for marketing their organization
o 76% find website to be effective for marketing their organization
o 64% find event marketing to be effective for marketing their organization

Social media catching up:
• 80% of small businesses increased their use of social media in the last 12 months
• The clear leader for small businesses is Facebook: 95% of those using social media are using Facebook

Saturday Seminar

I will be part of a panel discussion this Saturday in Culver City.

It's all about business writing and how to do it as a freelancer, from corporate communications to journalism. Come on out and attend!

Saturday, May 21, 2011
10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Business Majors

Are you studying business as an undergrad or getting your MBA?

I'm thinking I need to get my MBA. While journalists were not expected to have advanced degrees when I started in the newspaper business back in the dark ages of the last century, that has changed.

Particularly for business writers, having a more sophisticated understanding of finance and economics is becoming de rigueur.

Here's an interesting resource: A list of the 10 Best Study Abroad Destinations for business students.

Sounds pretty exciting, doesn't it? I'll keep you posted on my efforts in this area.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Small Business Week

This is National Small Business Week and lots of events are happening that may interest you.

Official events are sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Other groups host a plethora of events and activities as well.

Search for your city and "small business week" and you're likely to find regional events you can attend as well.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Getting Started

In Smart Answers today, I answer a question about startup business.

BBB Targeted by Scam

The Council of Better Business Bureaus aims to protect the public from fraud, scams and con games.

Now the BBB is the target of a new scam: Crooks are fraudulently using the organization’s name in order to steal tens of thousands of dollars from victims who are led to believe they have won a lottery:

BBB has been notified that an individual was contacted over the phone by someone claiming they were with the Council of Better Business Bureaus. The caller used the name Jacob Chasen and offered his phone number; however, it is not a BBB number. The caller indicated the individual had won a BBB lottery, but to receive the winnings, taxes and fees must be paid in advance.

“Many people are struggling in the current economy and when someone tells you that you’ve won millions in a lottery, it can seem like an answer to prayer,” said Stephen A. Cox, President and CEO of CBBB. “Every year, tens of thousands of people contact BBB about a suspicious lottery and instead of cashing in, many lose thousands of dollars they don’t have. This one involves our name and so we want to get the word out right away that this is a scam.”

If someone calls and tells you you've won a lottery - or anything else for that matter, healthy skepticism (if not outright guffaws) are in order.

*Always confirm the facts directly with the organization the representative claims to be from. Use contact information that you found on your own from the organization’s website; don’t rely on phone numbers or web links provided by the representative.

*Never, ever, ever pay money to get money. Scammers of all stripes make their money by convincing victims that they have to pay taxes or fees up front in order to receive their winnings. These are called "advance-fee schemes" and they catch a lot of people every year. Don't be one of them.

*Scammers will often mail a check with instructions to deposit it and wire back a portion of the funds to cover fees or taxes. This gives the victim a false sense of security, until the check is discovered to be fake.

If you've gotten a call or email that sounds like this, contact your local BBB immediately to report the incident.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Get a Business Score

A source (and friend) lets me in on a new business venture he's joined.

It's Enloop, a service being unveiled this week at the Finovate Conference.

Enloop is aimed at startup entrepreneurs.

"We help small to mid-size business owners create a business plan through a step-by-step process. We use industry data to 'score' their business and tell them the likelihood of success," wrote Elliot Tomaeno, director of communications for the new company.

"We are FREE for everyone. We just had a woman in Ethiopia use our tool to build and score her idea for a deli," he added.

Sounds like another in the series of free or low-cost online innovations that have come up in the past couple of years, aimed at helping entrepreneurs start and run their companies.

Check it out - and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Million Dollar Consulting

Many former execs have left their corporations - by hook or by crook - in the past two years.

If they haven't been able to retire, you can bet a lot of them have opened their own consulting practices.

Most will be lucky to equal their former salaries, and others just won't make it at all. Why?

Check out my interview with "Million-Dollar Consultant" Alan Weiss, a man who most definitely does not have a self-esteem problem! (But was a gracious and lovely interviewee.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

$8 Billion Fraud in 2010

Financial fraud cost small and mid-sized businesses $8 billion in 2010.

Here are some tips for preventing fraud at your company.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Free Help

If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: There's no such thing as a free lunch.

Now, let me make an exception. Good, free advice is hard to come by but it's not impossible.

SCORE, sponsored by American Express OPEN, the small business arm of AMEX, does a multi-city tour every year providing excellent free advice and counseling to small business owners. And I can vouch for them because I attended one myself.

Here's the 2011 schedule for “Small Business High Speed Growth,” a brand new national multi-city tour that couples popular one-on-one speed coaching with new problem-solving workshops focusing on areas that directly impact small business growth, including effective marketing and business finances.

May 9 – Washington, DC

June 7 – Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN

June 21 – Portland, ME

July 13 – Orange County, CA

October TBD – New York, NY

More information and registration here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dazzle Your Customers

Check out these terrific customer service tips from Micah Solomon in my Smart Answers column this week.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Eschew Your Comfort Zone

I'm a person fairly addicted to comfort. Not luxury, not wealth; but I do very much enjoy my comfortable routines and my comfortable life.

When a friend told me once how much she loved putting herself in risky, scary situations to see how she'd respond, I just shook my head: Does Not Compute. I don't like roller coasters, either.

As an introvert, getting out of my cave and shaking up my routine takes work and doesn't really feel ... comfortable. But I know that I have to fight this tendency to burrow in. I have to pry myself out of my comfort zone every once in a while. And when I do, it is usually with good results. (Not always, but usually.)

Last week, I got out of my routine for a couple of days and attended the Invent Your Future conference for women in Santa Clara.

It brought together entrepreneurs and professional women in a dynamic confluence of networking, learning and encouragement. I got to meet some terrific women, racked up a bunch of column ideas and ledes and heard Guy Kawasaki's presentation on "enchantment."

It is rather sad that Guy - the only guy on the speaker's roster at a women's conference - was the big hit of the event. But he's at a really high level when it comes to presentations, and he even gives some advice on presenting that I found very helpful.

Listen to his lecture or just review his slides. I hope they push you out of your comfort zone (once in a while), too.