Sunday, October 30, 2011


Due to a particularly unforgettable - and harrowing - episode of This American Life, I have a developed what is likely an irrational fear of bed bugs. Or perhaps it's a healthy fear, I'm not quite sure.

Either way, I never travel now without inspecting hotel room mattresses and dumping the contents of my suitcases into the washer (and more importantly a hot dryer) upon my return.

Seems I'm not the only one obsessed. Entrepreneurs are catching onto this phenomenon, not to mention cashing in on it, according to a report I received recently from the North American Bed Bug Summit.

This Chicago event attracted more than 700, double last year's attendance, and the number of vendors exhibiting also more than doubled, to 75. Because there is no "silver bullet" to rid the afflicted of bed bugs, inventors and marketers see a wide-open field in which to sell their solutions, at least until Big Pesticide weighs in.

As the summit organizers put it, "Because bedbugs are lucrative, entrepreneurs are hopeful their product will be a hit among customers." Because hey, when you've got bed bugs, you'll buy anything that claims it can help - or so I imagine.

I'm glad that entrepreneurs have a new market, but I hope someone invents that silver bullet (or silver cross, or garlic necklace) soon. My mother used to tuck me in every night with, "Sleep tight, and don't let the bed bugs bite." I'm sure she never realized that one day her catchphrase might be taken literally.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Small Business Saturday

The Saturday after Thanksgiving (yes, it's coming up sooner than you realize!) has been declared Small Business Saturday.

More than 100 advocacy, public and private organizations, including American Express OPEN and Clear Channel Radio, will be encouraging Americans to get their holiday shopping started at a small business on Nov. 26, 2011.

I know I'll participate. Will you?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

What's the small retailers' secret weapon this holiday season? Greeting customers by name and making personal recommendations for them.

This according to American Express OPEN's latest consumer survey on small business. The survey showed that nearly three-quarters of consumers shop at small businesses in their community because they do not want them to go away. 

So, here's the thing: They like you - they really, really like you! That's if you like them first. So, love your customers. Treat them like friends. Hire smiling sales clerks (hint: dimples really, really help) who are as genuine as they are smart.

Check out the other key findings from the survey, including who spends more money at small businesses, men or women; and how your customers find you depending on where you're located.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Guest Post

Note: Patricia Sigmon is founder and president of LPS Consulting, a 30-year-old technology firm that specializes in creating technology solutions for small to midsize businesses, with profit generation and return on investment as the focus. A successful entrepreneur, Patricia is author of "Six Steps to Creating Profit: A Guide for Small and Mid-sized Service-Based Businesses" (Wiley)

Five Reasons Your Business Should Join the "Cloud Crowd"

By Patricia Sigmon

The phrase cloud technology may be part of business lexicon, but how many small and medium-sized businesses are really taking full advantage of the cloud's time- and money-saving advantages?

If you engage in social networking such as LinkedIn, or use an email system such as Gmail, you're already in the cloud. But there's so much more to cloud technology. Here's a taste of how you can use the cloud to benefit your business, and why your business should join the "cloud crowd."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

AdWords Grader

How well are your Google Ad campaigns really working? Check out the AdWords Grader from Wordstream and find out.

Larry Kim, founder and CTO of WordStream, which puts out the AdWords Grader, says it is important to check metrics on your AdWords buys because:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hiring Diversity

Why hiring disabled employees is not only an ethical act, or a patriotic one, but a bottom-line benefit for small business.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What Business Structure Is Right?

Here's an infographic that you may find helpful, from

Thursday, October 13, 2011

At CUNY Grad School of Journalism learning about digital efficiency for business reporters and editors. Pretty cool stuff!

SABEW Conference starts this evening.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Women For the Nobel Win

I am so pleased and happy to see three peace activist women get the Nobel! Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is one of my heroes. And if you want to be inspired, put "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" on your Netflix list. It's the story of the brave Liberian women who crossed religious barriers to insist that their men stop fighting each other.

Chatty Cathy

The more things change, the more you stay the same. I don't know about you, but I am totally turning into my mother.

Last weekend I found myself chatting with cashiers at clothing stores and the girl making my chai latte at Starbucks. Then I stopped myself and wondered, "What in the world am I doing?"

Mom had a habit of telling strangers all our private family business. The clerk at the store, the person behind her in line buying groceries, the cute gas station attendant (this was in the days when guys in uniforms actually pumped gas for you): They all got an update on what we were doing and thinking, whether they wanted one or not.

It might have been fine in Portland, Oregon when my mom was growing up during the Great Depression, but this was 1970s L.A. and I assure you, it was weird.

The low point occurred the day after I had foolishly given in to the idea of letting my aunt cut and perm my oh-so-sleek, long, straight hair, parted-in-the-middle just like the cool older girls at school. It was one of my worst-ever decisions, but what can I say? Mom and Aunt Helen, a hair dresser, caught me in a weak moment and finally wore me down.

The result was a tortured few hours bent over the kitchen sink, nose plugged against the stink of a home-permanent kit. At the end, there was the horrifying realization that I had not only survived, but I looked like a cross between Shirley Temple and Phyllis Diller.

Surely my education had come to premature close; I could never show my face to the outside world again.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Smart Girls

Last week, I reported on a paper showing that women entrepreneurs start fewer companies than men, and their startups tend to be weaker financially.

That's the bad news. The good news is that there are a bunch of smart, determined women working to change that state of affairs.

One of them is called Smart Girls Way, a Seattle organization that describes its mission as: "A social venture dedicated to empowering women entrepreneurs to create significant economic breakthroughs."

The aforementioned paper lamented the lack of female entrepreneurial role models for young women. Smart Girls is trying to change that with something called the 100 x 100 Project:
Each weekday for the next 20 weeks, the 100 x 100 Project will feature a different video interview with a woman entrepreneur who shares her experiences and advice firsthand. 
Sounds like a great first step to me. Check out some of the stories and see if you can find some inspiration!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Customer Service

Personal, friendly, go-the-extra-mile customer service is the secret weapon of successful small businesses. But you'd never know it by visiting stores populated by surly, unconcerned staff, whose standard response to inquiries seems to be "the shrug," combined with "the mystified look."

"Huh? Why can't you just leave me alone, dude!?"

So it was a pleasant surprise to get timely, helpful and friendly service last weekend at a new camera and photo shop I ventured into to have some old photos copied. 

The staffer noticed me walk in and approached me immediately with a smile. She helped me scan my photos, cropping and improving the quality for me, and then apologized that it would take her 10 minutes to get the prints done.

No problem! The finished products were beautiful, done in no time and cost less than $10. The staffer also pointed out the store's holiday specials (bring in a shoebox of old prints and get them transferred onto a CD for $39.99) in a manner that was informative, but low-pressure.

I'll definitely be going back and may even take them up on their special offer. What a great holiday gift for that relative who is tough to buy for!

Every small business owner should have employees so engaged and positive. "A company's frontline associates can be an organization's best competitive advantage and the 'secret' to securing repeat business," says Richard Shapiro, author of the forthcoming book, "The Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business" (Feb 2012).

Take a look at Shapiro's Top 10 Tips for repeat business after the jump...