Friday, August 26, 2011

My Interview with Tim Berry

Is up on my brand-new YouTube channel!

You can also see my earlier interview with John Suh, of LegalZoom, and soon I'll be adding footage from a talk I gave to a small business workshop.

Thanks to the marvelous Paula Johnson, my web guru, for sprucing up my online presence.

She's the best.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Powerful Women

My friend and business source Glenn Llopis writes about the Four Skills That Give Women a Sustainable Advantage Over Men.

Glenn is a visionary. I hope that he's right, and that more women will recognize their skills and use them to advantage in business and life.

Just for some examples and inspiration, check out this gallery of powerful women.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Women Entrepreneurs

Women business owners are positive about their long-term business growth, says a new survey from PNC Financial Services Group, but nearly half of them favor intuition over analysis.

And twice as many cite "passion" - rather than financial success - as their reason for staying in business.

Passion is essential for small business success: The work is too hard and the hours are too long for anyone who is lackadaisical about entrepreneurship.

But while passion is a good element, I don't like to see 45 percent of women CEOs point to their passion for the company, while only 22 percent cite financial success as a primary motivator.

I learned one thing about entrepreneurship early on: Companies primarily exist to make money. (Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that men aren't so ambivalent about this point?)

Yes, you can have a double bottom-line. And I'm all for doing well by doing good.

But the key is this: Your company has to get to the point where it can do good. And that means it has to be healthy - able to pay its bills and its employees, turn a profit, and earn a solid ROI for you as owner. Once it gets to that point, the sky's the limit as to where your passion can take you.

Running a business as a hobby - for the passion, not the profit - will never allow you to get to that point. Women are smart enough to know that. I wonder if there's a reluctance to admit it? Here's the deal: There's no shame in being concerned about the bottom line.

Some more results from the survey:

. An overwhelming number of women, 8 out of 10, have said that economic volatility will not deter them from their professional ventures.

· Social Business: Only half (51 percent) of respondents use interactive online channels to promote their businesses. Of those who are using social networks, 40 percent use Facebook, 27 percent use LinkedIn and 13 percent use Twitter.

· Head v. Gut: When making business decisions, women are split between analysis and intuition. Fifty-five percent say they opt to analyze the situation, with 45 percent going with their intuition.

· Advice at home: When looking for professional advice, women owners consult their spouses most often (49 percent). Professional advisors (40 percent) and peers (30 percent) are also seen as valuable sources of information.

· Who you know: Nearly seven out of 10 (68 percent) are affiliated with at least one industry group or business organization. Chambers of commerce and national industry groups are the most popular.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ask What You Can Do

The new Sunday Review section of the New York Times (which I like very much) adds an interesting feature: Readers respond to a provocative letter to the editor.

This past weekend, the "Sunday Dialogue" was sparked by an executive recruiter. He offered several ideas for ending the financial crisis:

... creating jobs by investing in infrastructure, and for reducing the deficit by increasing the age for Medicare beneficiaries, using means-testing for Social Security recipients, reforming the tax code to close loopholes and make it fairer, ending subsidies for giant corporations, bringing all of our troops home from Afghanistan by Christmas and eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich.

Oft-discussed solutions, none of which seems very do-able considering the gridlock in Washington. What intrigued me, though, was this response from Rebecca Zicarelli of Maine:

With all the daunting problems we face, the questions being asked are: What can President Obama do? What can the Fed do? What can Congress do? We’re so focused on government, we forget the private sector, as Mr. Lowenstein did in his letter.

The private sector seems to be waiting for some far-off day when government gets out of the way. It’s time for the private sector to stop sitting on the piles of cash we hear about and use it to create new demand, to create growth. Stop overworking your existing employees. Hire new employees.

I keep hearing that “government’s the problem.” Well, if you run a company and you’ve got the ability to hire but you’re not hiring, you’re the problem.

We need to talk about what you can do for your country.

I've been waiting for someone to start talking about the responsibility of the private sector and the encouragement of consumer confidence. I wish the idea had been raised by someone in a leadership role, no offense to Rebecca (who writes a darned good letter).

I'm frankly surprised it hasn't been.

During 11 years of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt gave 30 evening radio speeches dubbed the Fireside Chats (you can listen to the first one at the link and hear him tell people that banks are safer than stashing money under their mattresses.)

The chats were short, plain-spoken and aimed directly at regular folks. They earned FDR a great deal of trust and affection with the public, at a time of great panic and fear, and influenced positive public response (such as halting a run on the banks).

It seems to me we need similar calls to calm and to patriotism right now. The constant drumbeat of doom and gloom (delivered almost gleefully in some corners of the media) has been extraordinarily - and measurably - destructive to our economy.

"Confidence and courage are the essentials of success," Roosevelt says. I think we need a similar message today. And I think Rebecca's echo of JFK is right on: Someone needs to talk about what we all can do for our country.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Top 10 List

What are the Top 10 challenges for a small business in its first five years?

Answers from a variety of experts in my Smart Answers column.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Plan A, B, C

How clueless is clueless? Even a small amount of research on entrepreneurship should yield two conclusions: It's risky and extremely time-consuming.

Yet the professionals-turned-small business owners profiled in this weekend's New York Times Style section seem surprised at how hard it is to succeed in business.

Honestly? I understand, especially in retail, that it would be more hectic than even a well-prepared individual had anticipated. But the subjects of the piece apparently wanted to downshift, take it easy, smell the roses and lead "healthier" lifestyles.

Becoming independently wealthy is probably a good way to achieve those goals. Starting up a business? Not so much.

The weird thing is that I and many, many other small business journalists, experts, advisors and CEOs have been warning about the pitfalls of entrepreneurship for years. Do it if you must, we say, but make sure you go in with a very realistic understanding of what it will take. And if you're not ready for the risk, keep your day job.

I don't know whether that word isn't getting out there, or whether it is but people don't believe it, or whether people bulldoze headfirst into business ownership without reading the instruction manual. Probably a combination of all three.

The good news: By the end of the piece, we learn that most of the business owners are happy they made the switch. I just think the transition might have been easier if they'd read the fine print.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Get Real, Granny

The New York Times reports that Baby Boomers are rejecting the terms "grandmother" and "grandfather":

“My wife and I were somewhat serious about being called Irene and John,” Mr. Dawson said. “We like our names and that it’s real. Grandpa, Grandma, Granny, Nanna, Gramps, etc., give off a vision of being old."

Now, I don't expect to be a grandmother any time soon, so maybe I shouldn't talk. But this trend annoys me no end. The allergy to aging smacks, to me, of the worst stereotypes about Boomers: vanity, exceptionalism and self-absorption.

Who me? Get older and become a grandpa? Never!

I can't quite detect the harm in cultural honorifics that convey respect, tradition and great affection. And can you imagine a toddler rushing up to hug ... Irene and John?

Those who think they're never going to get old should read "Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age," by one of my favorite authors, Susan Jacoby.

When I turned 50 last year, several people offered condolences. I didn't need them. I have several friends who never made it to 50, and a few who never made it to 40 - or even 30.

I was grateful to hit the half-century mark because, when you think about it, what's the alternative?

My parents met and married late in life and by the time I had children, my father was gone and my mother was declining. My husband and I watched enviously as we saw young-ish grandparents spending time with their grandchildren. Not only did our children not get those wonderful relationships, we didn't get the parenting breaks we desperately needed.

Few words, besides Mama and Dada, are more comforting and homey than Nana or Gramma, Gramps or Papa. Other people can stick with Irene or John. I'm looking forward to the day a toddler runs up to hug me and hollers "Grammy!"

Friday, August 12, 2011

Triumph of Low-Tech

I was fortunate enough to interview LegalZoom CEO John Suh last month. (Scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page and you can watch our interview in full.)

This was my first time live on the Internet and there were some technology glitches. (I attend lectures at CalTech, and even the world's top geniuses grapple with technology bugs, so I'm in good company.)

But it was a low-tech trick and long years of experience that saved me from disaster. Here's what happened:

We tested the iPad I was to use to take questions from a live audience online. But we tested it about 90 minutes early. By the time we were live, the iPad had been thrown offline by a Wi-Fi security program that none of us knew about, nor anticipated.

I didn't know what was wrong with this cute little gadget, but I knew I wasn't getting any questions from the audience. And half the program was supposed to be questions from the audience!

Fortunately, I knew from experience to prepare about three times as many questions as I could use. Also fortunately, I insisted on keeping my trusty yellow legal pad in front of me. iPad, schmiPad - I need to scribble during interviews.

Thank goodness I had it there: As I was trying to decide on my next question and listen and interact with John as he talked, I managed to scrawl a "Help!" note and pass it to the tech team. As I tap-danced away, getting deep into my "extra" questions for John, the fantastic tech guys spirited away the iPad and fixed it.

People who watched the session live had no idea anything untoward was happening. I was sweating bullets underneath what looked like a calm exterior. John just soldiered on with terrific insights and innovative thinking.

Despite the near-disaster, it was a lot of fun to do the interview. I'll be doing another one next week, with the equally fascinating Tim Berry of Palo Alto Software.

You can be sure my pen and paper will be within arm's reach.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My Interview with John Suh of Legal Zoom

CredibilityLive Event Upcoming

Exciting news! I'll be interviewing Tim Berry, serial entrepreneur and CEO of Palo Alto Software, for another CredibilityLive event next Thursday. Info/register online.

It's free, fun and informative.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Do Social Media, But Safely

Everybody is on the bandwagon about social media. As usual, I'm skeptical.

Yes, you need to have a Facebook page for your business or brand. And a LinkedIn page for your career, and Twitter for exposure and fun.

But social media is also the latest Trojan horse for malware, viruses and scammers, who hide their malicious packages in fake social media invites and weird "look at this YouTube video" emails.

Here are some best practices from Don DeBolt, director of Threat Research (what a title!) at Total Defense:

1. Share wisely
Most users, especially younger ones, don’t put much thought into the repercussions of sharing too much information, even though they should. Last year, a woman posted on Facebook that she was leaving town for a week. While out, her house was burglarized by a Facebook ‘friend’. Now that’s a real hack!

2. Don’t forget to log out
Most online users opt-in to automatically log-in to at least one Web site. Many are logged in to e-mail, Facebook and Twitter accounts all the time, at the same time, in multiple locations. It’s easy for someone to get a hold of your personal information in any one of these online locations at any time, if you simply forget to log-out.

3. Don’t click on funky links
If social networking had a constitution, this would be the first amendment. It’s clear as glass that it’s a bad idea to click on a link without prior information, that doesn’t appear to be appropriate based on the URL, that previews questionable content, etc., but a recent report found that 73% of users are still clicking on malicious links in news feeds.

4. Update your AV, ASAP
This is no sales pitch. It’s pretty simple. The only way to stay as protected as possible is to update your AV software. With new bugs hitting the Web by the minute, it’s important that you have the latest technology to protect yourself from possible hacks.

I have seen some funny-slash-embarrassing repercussions for people who forget about tip number two, above. Have you?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reality Makeover Show

Just passing this along: An L.A. production company, A. Smith & Co. Productions, is looking for local small businesses to participate in a makeover reality show.

If you're interested, email Include your name, location, phone number and a brief description about your company, along with a picture of you and your biz.

You get an expert "makeover" of your company if you are chosen to participate.

I can't vouch for them personally, so caveat emptor on this one!

Monday, August 8, 2011

To Cold Call - Or Not

Quick heads up on my recent contribution to the Future Simple blog.

Should you use cold-calling as part of your sales strategy? Maybe.

It's nearly always better to have a personal contact or solid sales lead. But for some companies, in some circumstances, cold-calling is almost inevitable.

The good news: There are ways to make it less painful and more productive. Check out the blog for some advice and let me know whether it helped.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

'Lope Springs Eternal

I have had a fruit-and-vegetable garden since my father showed me his tomato plants when I was about six. I don't know what made a bigger impression: The fact that he was producing something I thought only came from the grocery store, or the fat, ugly horn worms that he picked off and tossed over the fence.

Either way, that afternoon put me on the path to lifelong gardener. I've had mixed results, but managed over the years to produce bushels of tomatoes, squash of all kinds, peppers, beans, cucumbers, corn, eggplant, lettuce, kale, chard and others.

I also had a holy grail: Melons.

Oh, I tried, believe me I tried. Watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupes. They died out fast, never germinated, started off swell and then petered out.

One year, my cantaloupe vines actually set fruit. I was elated. Then, just as the baby melons started to swell up, the plant shriveled and died within days. Heartbroken, I pulled up the gnarled roots and took them to the expert Japanese-American gardeners at my local nursery. The discouraging diagnosis: Nematodes.

Another year, my watermelon plants seemed to thrive. The baby melons set, the fruit grew. It looked like I'd finally achieved the impossible: Beautiful, green stripers sat in the garden patch ... and they sat ... and they sat. The vine gradually died back, the fall rolled around and when there was nothing else to do, I picked them. Inside, the fruit was yellow tinged with pink. The melons had never ripened.

That was pretty much the end of it. I'd given up. Until this year:

There are about half a dozen more in various stages of ripening on the vine. The irony is that I didn't do a thing. I didn't even plant this cantaloupe, it showed up as a volunteer, probably originating from a melon I tossed into my compost pile sometime last winter.

What I love about gardening: Nature constantly surprises. Life will out. Things want to grow and produce and thrive. I post this not to brag, but to encourage. Even when you think you're beaten, and your plants have died and your career is over, a small shoot will push its head out of the soil.

With a little TLC, you may even wind up with a cantaloupe.

Friday, August 5, 2011

More and More Solutions

Tradeshift, a cloud-based company that allows businesses to exchange invoices for free, is on the lookout for ways that small businesses can cut costs by implementing cloud-based solutions like their own.

Tradeshift's CEO, Christian Lanng, sent me this list of online resources. Check a few of them out:

TalentWise – A cloud HR solution, TalentWise makes the hiring process more affordable and manageable by offering hundreds of custom employment screening packages including background checks, drug testing, credit checks, verifications, and more. Its flexibility makes it suitable for businesses of all sizes.

SkedgeMe – SkedgeMe is an online scheduling tool that makes business scheduling a breeze by making it possible for SMBs to accept appointments through their websites 24/7. Customers can see when the services are available and book them right online.

NewVoiceMedia – NewVoiceMedia delivers a cloud-based contact center solution. It provides access to contact center technology (call routing, queueing, CRM, etc.) in an easier and more affordable way without the need for a big investment in hardware, software or professional services.

Peer Software – Peer Software specializes in data protection and consistency, allowing businesses to better manage their digital assets. By protecting against data loss and facilitating software distribution, Peer Software helps sustain seamless business communications.

Dropbox – An online syncing service, Dropbox is the simplest way to store and share your files. It syncs directly over local networks without having to go through online servers first, and also has the best third-party support.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

DIY Bookkeeping

Dun & Bradstreet statistics say that nine out of ten business failures in the United States are caused by a lack of general business management skills and planning.

Keeping track of a business’s financial health is a huge step toward having a successful business.

So begins the pitch for Lily E. Chambers new book, "How To Do Your Own Small Business Bookkeeping."

Lily is absolutely right. I wrote about the need for small business financial literacy recently in my Bloomberg BusinessWeek column.

But what if you can't afford to outsource your financials or hire an in-house financial person? That's where Lily's book comes in, teaching you how you can do your own bookkeeping in QuickBooks. It is available at or on Lily's website, Virtual Office Goddess.

Check it out, and let me know what you think!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Expensive Words

What are the most expensive keyword categories online? That's a question Larry Kim, the founder of WordStream, asked in order to determine where Google makes their ad revenues.

His findings are contained in this infographic. Probably about what I would have expected, although a couple of strange ones cropped up there: cord blood? really?

So, how do small businesses compete on Google AdWords if they are operating in one of the most expensive keyword categories?

Here are Larry's suggestions:

1) Be Picky: One of the neat things in Google AdWords is they let you be very specific in choosing what keywords to show your ads for. Think about your what makes your products or services unique – and figure out exactly what is your keyword niche is, then bid on those specific 3+ word keyword phrases that are more specific to your business.

2) Be Relevant: Once you’ve identified your keyword list, break it up into smaller, more targeted lists, so that you can run different, more specific ads that call out your key differentiators for the different types of keyword searches that you’ve picked.

3) Landing Pages: The average conversion rate (the ratio of clicks to your site vs. number of leads generated) for a typical small businesses is around 2%, yet I often see companies with 20-30% conversion rates. Experimenting with different offers is super-important, for example, free estimates, free consultations, $50 off, download a free resource guide (etc.).