Friday, December 30, 2011

Sell to China

Now's the time for service providers and small companies to look into doing business with China, according to long-time export consultant James Chan.

There's both great opportunity and great risk, but nearly unlimited potential, Chan says in my column today. I'll be discussing it on the Bloomberg Small Business radio report next Tuesday.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


I'd given up years ago on New Year's Resolutions. I could never think of any inspiring goals, and that made me feel guilty. When I decided to give up guilt a (blessed) decade ago, I also gave up resolutions.

But this year, a couple of 'em popped into my head spontaneously. One is to put what little extra cash I have each month into a trip fund, so I can take a real vacation every year (or maybe every other) and finally get cracking on my lifelong ambition to be a well-traveled individual. The other is to research an ancestor whom I've always been curious about and determine whether there's enough material in his life story for a novel or non-fiction book.

I really like both resolutions, so I'm going to actually put them on my "task list" and try to follow through.

Well, service strategist John Tschohl, founder of The Service Quality Institute and author of seven books, recommends that small businesses make 2012 resolutions as well. Here's a look at his top five:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fathers and Daughters

I interviewed a researcher who has written a new book on father-daughter business succession around the world.

I thought it was very interesting. Check it out and see what you think!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Top Ten 2011

This is the time of year when we get inundated with Top 10 lists for movies, TV shows, albums, you-name-it.

One that's a little different stood out. Check out this Top Ten Emotional Intelligence moments of 2011 and you'll find Justin Timberlake, Anthony Weiner and two - count 'em two! - appearances from Anderson Cooper, who's apparently become our national emoter-in-chief.

Just for fun, this list of comments on Top 10 lists cracked me up.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A True Meritocracy?

Women still participate less in the global economy, are less likely to start businesses and run established businesses and are less confident about their ability to be entrepreneurs, according to this Global Entrepreneurship Monitor study I reported on last week.

The facts, much as we dislike them, are in. The statistics speak for themselves, no matter what culture or country is studied - though there are degrees better and worse in terms of women's outlook.

But what's the cause? Let's start with the fact that in the U.S., women have not had the vote even for a century. That's right; my great-grandmother never cast a vote and my grandmother could not vote for most of her young adulthood. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

So, societal factors. Gender differences. Parenting differences. It's complicated because every factor plays some role, major or minor.

Last week at a TEDx conference, long-time entrepreneur and economics professor Vivek Wadhwa detailed his findings on how women and certain racial minorities have fared in the so-called "pure meritocracy" of Silicon Valley. He also talked about the reception he got from the powers-that-be when he challenged their most cherished assumptions. Let's just say it wasn't pretty.

A fantastic talk and well worth watching.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sources of Information

Where do your potential customers get information about where they should go to shop and dine out?

The Pew Research Center asked that question and the answers they found are online in this report:

The internet is the source that people most rely on for material about the local business scene and search engines are particularly valued. Newspapers and word of mouth also rank high as sources.
I'm glad to see that newspapers - both the printed copies and newspaper websites - are still making it up near the top of the list.

Word of mouth is another important source of information. Social media, for all we hear about it, is way down near the bottom.

Takeaways? Read the report, it's interesting and you'll likely draw some conclusions that apply specifically to your 2012 marketing plan. For my part, I'd say you'd better have a strong, search-engine-optimized presence for your business online.

But that's not news anymore.

I'd also venture that while social media will continue to grow in influence, it's not as big a factor as most of us would think, given how much buzz it engenders. In an interview with one of my favorite consultants this week, he mentions how many clients want to abandon all their traditional advertising for Facebook - and how he counsels against it in many cases.

I remember, more than a decade ago, interviewing some forward-thinking techies about entertainment media They assured me that by the early '00s, we'd all be downloading movies and television to our computers directly and traditional media would be on its way out.

About two months later, the Netflix concept - sending physical DVDs by the old-fashioned postal service model - really caught on. It's only within the past year that streaming has truly become accessible to the masses.

So just keep that in mind: Whenever you hear something's hopelessly old-fashioned and "on its way out," including newspapers, figure you've got at least a decade or more before that really comes true.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Communications Blunders

Every time I talk to self-employed women and women business owners, the same stumbling blocks to success seem to crop up. 

"I get shy" about promoting myself, one amazingly talented and successful woman said recently. This is an accomplished writer who is not someone you would ever identify as "shy." But when it comes to self-promotion, it's difficult even for many confident, extroverted women to do it.

Yeah, it's difficult for some men, too. But I think they are less apt, as a group, to fall into this trap. What do you think?

Here are some additional blunders that women seem to make, as identified by Roshini Rajkumar, a communications consultant and author of, "Communicate That!"   

  • Apologizing for perceived short-falls: Stop apologizing because it makes you sound weak. Instead, come up with a suggestion.
  • Bad posture: This includes rolled shoulders and shifty feet. If you stand up straight you will appear more confident and people will take you more seriously.
  • Lack of voice projections and weak vocal behavior. Having a weak voice, including nasal or ultra-feminine tones, gives others the impression you are not capable. If you adapt a stronger voice you will have a better chance of not being second guessed.
  • Lack of pride in accomplishments: Take pride in what you’ve done, and others will see how you can be beneficial to the team as well.
  • Less is more: Be very intentional about what you say and how you say it. Don’t be too wordy.
  • Ill fitted clothing: Clothes that don’t fit is unprofessional. Get your clothes tailored to fit you perfectly -- the extra money makes a huge difference.
I don't know about bad posture, but I've certainly seen otherwise-professional women in ill-fitting or inappropriate clothing at business events. Either they're wearing baggy, shapeless outfits, they're too casual or they're in clothes that probably fit nicely - a couple of sizes ago.

Not a good look, either way.

And the apologizing, preemptively and totally unnecessarily, really is a pet peeve of mine. I just hate to see women starting off a conversation with "sorry" when it is not expected or needed.

What about you? Are there blunders that bother you, or others that you've noticed - among men or women - when it comes to communication? 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Favorite Mistake*

One of my best Smart Answers columns in recent years was a Q&A with the author of a book about business failure.

When you think about it, most business books fall into either the "inspirational" or the "how-to" categories.

The tone is relentlessly optimistic, laying out one five-point plan after another for how entrepreneurs can duplicate the success of Amazon, Google or Wal-Mart, all within a couple of years and funded by chump change.

But maybe a more useful program for success would simply involve studying failure. It turns out that few people ask why companies go under, or systematically study failure. There's just not much market - or much "ca-ching" - associated with that topic.

There is a new entry in the thin ranks of "mistake literature," however. It's "Brilliant Mistakes: Finding Success on the Far Side of Failure," by Paul Schoemaker (Wharton Digital Press). And as part of the book launch, the publisher is holding a contest to pick the best "mistakes that jumpstarted success."

Take a look and submit a mistake. The deadline is Feb. 1, 2012.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Free Shipping Day

Online shopping is way up this year, according to retail stats.

If you plan on ordering online for your holiday gifts, think about doing it this Friday, Dec. 16. That's Free Shipping Day, an Internet phenomenon that I documented in a podcast when it started four years ago.

Basically, participating merchants offer free shipping and guarantee delivery by Christmas Eve if you order with them online Friday. More than 2,000 retailers, including many small businesses, have signed up so far.

Me? I'm making my list and taking it to my local bookstore, my local stationery store and an artisan marketplace this year. These are small businesses that I want to see survive and thrive. I figure this way, I can help them out and not have to pay shipping costs at all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Up For Debate

The dreadful hoax that passes for "debating the issues" is the main reason I swore off cable television news this year.

You know what I'm talking about: The opposing lineups of usual-suspect pundits relegated to tiny on-screen boxes on either side of the screen. The host posing some nutty question, and one "expert" after another attempting to boil a complicated policy discussion down into a 15-second sound bite.

Almost inevitably, the thing devolves and a shouting match ensues. The issues don't get anywhere near a full airing. Then, the host announces s/he has to "leave it there" and move onto another pressing agenda item, usually the celebrity scandal du jour.    

Well, the debate format has not deteriorated completely, as I learned this year when I belatedly found Intelligence Squared US, a British export that started in New York City in 2006. The format, a series of live,  Oxford-style debates, pits top thinkers on really important issues. Because there are rules and sufficient time allotted to real discussion, the debates are interesting and enjoyable.

I find the debates a tonic to the ridiculous nonsense on TV. It's especially valuable to have both leading conservatives and liberals participating. Too often, we have one side or the other preaching to their own base and there's no airing of ideas across the ideological divide.

The lineup for 2012 has just been announced. While it would be a lot of fun to attend one in person, for those of us who can't, there are a number of ways to watch them online or on PBS or hear them on NPR or on a podcast. Check them out and let me know what you think.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tax Essentials

'Tis the season to be jolly. And 'tis the season for small business owners to think about that gripping topic: Tax planning.

I wrote about some year-end tax planning tasks last month

If you're looking for additional help, check into the live web chat hosted by the U.S. Small Business Administration this Thursday at 10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. Eastern time. Chat participants will get "valuable information on how to prepare now with useful tax savings tips and a set of red flags on mistakes to avoid." 

You can submit questions now at the SBA website and log in Thursday to watch CPA Edward S. Karl, of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, answer others' questions about tax deductions and credits business owners can use.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Babbling Fish

Another one of those weird, unintentionally hilarious auto-translations of a column popped up in my Google Alerts today.

According to Movimento degli Africani, I am the "Intelligent Answers" columnist. I suppose the wording could have been a lot worse!

Here's just a snippet:

Once tiny organization proprietors understand what the quantities mean, they are able to strategy more knowledgeably and steer clear of getting blindsided, says Hettinger. Edited excerpts of his current conversation with Intelligent Answers columnist Karen E. Klein comply with.

I wouldn't say the translation software did a very good job with the headline. It changed "Building a Business vs. Making a Living" into "Developing a Enterprise vs. Creating a Residing."

Ouch. I think I'll stick with my own editor, who does a great job writing headlines - in English.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How AdWords Works

How exactly does Google make money on its AdWords and who determines which ads go where and what they cost?

The answer is pretty complicated, as illustrated in this infographic from WordStream.

"Millions of web advertisers really don't understand this," WordStream founder Larry Kim says. Um, yeah, no wonder they don't understand it! Whew ...

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Don't Blow It

Retail sales are up this holiday so far and that's a good thing for the economy.

But what's good on a macro level is not always good on a micro level. If you are someone who finds herself in serious debt come the first of the year due to holiday overspending (or seriously overweight due to holiday overeating!), here are some moderation tips from personal finance author Dani Johnson, author of "First Steps to Wealth."

Cut down on your activity level: Stop feeling obligated to attend every party. If you normally commit to 15 holiday events between work and family, cut it down and only attend half -- the most important ones. Give yourself permission to be in control and remember it is okay to say “no.”
Stop buying gifts nobody needs: Make a pact with your friends and family to give back instead. Pool a percentage of the money you were going to spend on gifts and give a “secret blessing” to somebody who is truly need. Bringing food to a family in need will cost much less than buying gifts.
Set attainable New Year's resolutions: Make sure you are aiming high but being realistic. Use the time off to organize your finances and plan for the year ahead. Knowing where you stand financially dramatically decreases stress.
Give yourself the gift that keeps on giving: I am not talking about a flat screen TV. Pay off your debt! You will feel better about yourself and set the stage for a great year ahead.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Compete to Win

Another exhibit in the ongoing discussion about women in business.

This one asks "Are women competitive enough?" and points out that women are plenty competitive - with each other! - over men, clothes, etc.

Some interesting discussion follows in the comments.

Meanwhile, here's an illuminating infographic from The Economist on women in the labor force internationally. It was brought to my attention by SwayMaker on Twitter - thanks SM!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Sin or Survival?

What's the best business idea? One that appeals to our "sinful nature" or solves our worst problems?

An intriguing question from one of my readers: I answer it in this week's column.