Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Park Places

I have written the guest post at Pasadena Daily Photo today. Take a look.

Is This Where It All Ends?

Off and on (mostly on) for the past 15 years or so, I've written about small business for the Los Angeles Times. At one point in the heady '90s, I had three regular columns going at once.

This week, I learned that my weekly Q&A column has been cancelled, the victim of "reduced revenues" and editorial budgets strained to the breaking by events in Japan and the Middle East over the past year. My editors, who were kind and apologetic, explained that the freelance budget at the paper has been basically squashed entirely. Of course, they didn't mention bankruptcies, terrible decisions by shifting owners and corporations that demand Wall Street-level returns from an industry that should rightly be seen as a public service. But, they didn't need to: We all know about that.

We also know that newspapers are dying. It's just that the death rattle has become increasingly pronounced as the months have flown by in 2011.

Our local San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Pasadena Star-News is now owned by hedge fund managers whose priority is the bottom line - period. As a result, reporters and editors have undergone a painful series of layoffs, pay cuts and furloughs at the papers.

The L.A. Times, one of the nation's best examples of daily journalism back in the day, has not fared any better. I remember having lunch in the Los Angeles Times cafeteria back when I was a downtown reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News (friends got me in the door) and always being wowed by the thrilling glimpse of a big-time news operation.

When I went back last year for a holiday party, I was shocked: rows and rows of empty, debris-strewn desks piled up around the edges of cavernous news rooms where a tiny group of layoff-survivors still worked at desks huddled together in the center. Carpets were literally threadbare, walls badly in need of paint. Many offices and departments, formerly filled with busy writers and editors, were simply shuttered, the rooms dark.

And this is at the newspaper that won the Pulitzer Prize last year for public service.

This article, by former New York Times correspondent Christopher Hedges, lays out the dire situation of journalism in all its sad, stark reality.

The whole piece is worth a read, but here's how he concludes:

The death of journalism, the loss of reporters on the airwaves and in print who believed the plight of the ordinary citizen should be reported, means that it will be harder for ordinary voices and dissenters to reach the wider public. The preoccupation with news as entertainment and the loss of sustained reporting will effectively marginalize and silence those who seek to be heard or to defy established power. Protests, unlike in the 1960s, will have a difficult time garnering the daily national coverage that characterized the reporting on the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement and in the end threatened the power elite. Acts of protest, no longer covered or barely covered, will leap up like disconnected wildfires, more easily snuffed out or ignored. It will be hard if not impossible for resistance leaders to have their voices amplified across the nation, to build a national movement for change. The failings of newspapers were huge, but in the years ahead, as the last battle for democracy means dissent, civil disobedience and protest, we will miss them.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Invoicing Pitfalls

One of the major problems that small business owners face is the monthly cash crunch. A big contributor to this dilemma is uncollected invoices, late-payers and clients who must be hounded like crazy to issue a check.

The folks behind Tradeshift are ambitious enough to believe they can change the way we do business by allowing organizations to exchange invoices for free.

Here are their tips on how to create and submit an invoice that will help avoid the pitfalls that lead to delayed payment, or worse, no payment:

1. No backup system. It’s kind of a no-brainer, but if one computer crashes, all your records are gone. Make sure to back your invoices up on multiple computers – or better yet, store it in the cloud. These are some of the most important documents of your business, after all.
2. Having one gatekeeper. Don’t give full ownership of this responsibility to just one person – you never know when you’ll need access to the information, and gatekeepers can cause bottlenecks – the last thing you want when you’re trying to get paid.
3. “The invoice is in the mail…” Unless you’re hand-delivering paper invoices, you can’t confirm receipt unless you’ve paid for FedEx. And snail mail means snail payment…the worst kind. Go online to get paid faster.
4. Forgetting to invoice altogether. Admit it – it happens. And that’s money lost. Make sure you have a system in place to help you remember to send out your invoices along with any reminders when they are overdue.
5. Incorrect currency conversions. Working with international businesses? A miscalculated currency conversion causes delays at best, and underpayment at worst. Make sure you’re using a system that allows for the most updated conversion rates.
6. Misfiring an invoice. Ever sent the wrong invoice to the wrong vendor? That can get hairy when you’re sharing confidential pricing matters – and might even hurt negotiations if one vendor sees how much (or little) you’re paying others. Automate your system to avoid the awkward.
7. Doubling up. Generating duplicate invoice numbers is one of the most common mistakes made. Without a system to prevent dupes, small business owners risk wasting time and money trying to undo the confusion this can create.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Worse Than ... What?

A marketing genius obviously dreamed up this recent national survey that critques boring, static PowerPoint presentations.

Bad PowerPoint (and I do stress "bad" because I've also seen great ones) are so painful that nearly 25% say they would give up sex rather than sit through a PowerPoint, according to the survey. More than one-third reported falling asleep during one; 30% admitted they have snuck out on a bad slide presentation.

As you might imagine, this survey was done by a PowerPoint competitor, SlideRocket. They identify the following hallmarks of bad presentations: Excessive text on slides, boring graphics, lack of analytics, and large file size.

I would agree with those and add another one: Blocks of text that the presenter insists on reading, word-for-word, to the audience, most of whom have already read that paragraph or bullet point by the time the speaker gets to it. Ugh.

At a recent conference I attended, there was a deadly dull PowerPoint and a fantastic one. The bad one was way too complicated and the topic itself was boring. The great one was done by Guy Kawasaki - need I say more?

My friend, marketing guru Sam Horn, does say more. In a series of blog posts, she goes through Kawasaki's slide show and points out what he did right. It's a fun - and instructive - read.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Helicopter Parents

We've all heard about helicopter parents who are overly involved in their kids' choice of college classes, majors, etc.

Now it seems that behavior is being extended into first jobs. According to a new survey from staffing firm OfficeTeam, clingy mothers and fathers submit their child’s resume, follow up on salary offers for their kids and even ask to sit in on job interviews!

Executives interviewed were asked to recount the most unusual or surprising behavior they had heard of or witnessed from the parent of a job seeker. Here are some of their responses:

“One parent wanted to sit in during the interview.”
“A parent called a politician to push me to hire his son.”
“A mother submitted her daughter’s resume on her behalf.”
“Someone stopped an employer at a grocery store to ask that person to hire her child.”
“A parent called to ask about a job applicant’s work schedule and salary.”
“A parent called during the interview to try to push me to hire her daughter.”
“I received a call from a father asking about the status of his son’s application.”
“A parent came by my desk and told me that he expected his daughter to get preference for a position since he was a manager at the company.”
“A mother called to ask how her child did in the job interview.”
“A parent called to find out why we did not hire her son and why we felt he was not qualified.”


Must resist such interventions. Seriously, it's harder than it sounds.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Web Series

A couple years ago, I wrote about how small businesses can use web TV series to introduce new products or generally market themselves.

This month, I learned about how specialty insurer Hiscox has launched a new, scripted comedy web series called "Leap Year." The show, which will have 10 episodes, tracks the entrepreneurial highs and lows of starting a business and features cameos from small business experts.

Sounds like a fun way to promote a product that is not usually described as "fun."

Monday, June 13, 2011

Summer Beach Reading?

Well, maybe not.

But here is a list of 20 entrepreneurial biographies you should read - for fun or inspiration.

They're going on my (packed) reading list! Have you got any to recommend?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Do You See Color?

How important are the colors you choose for your website, logo or business cards?

Very important, says Jill Morton, a branding expert and "color psychologist." (That's a new one on me!)

Check out her post on Xerox.com to see the three steps she suggests to determine the best color for an SMB to improve retention, productivity and generate significant financial returns.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Winning Women

A few months back, I wrote about how few women enter business competitions each year.

That article also talked about the organizations trying to remedy this underrepresentation. One of them is Ernst & Young, which has been running a business contest specifically for women business owners for the past four years.

Now, the company is announcing the last call for applications for this year's Entrepreneurial Winning Women competition. The program is designed to help accelerate the growth of women-owned businesses.

Frankly, I think it is too bad that we can't all compete together, regardless of gender. But after very few women entered their general entrepreneur contests, E&Y felt it could boost participation if it established a special contest geared toward women.

And it has been successful. If you want to enter, or nominate someone else, you can submit online.

The application deadline is June 30, 2011. Ten winners will be announced in October 2011.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mastering Communications

Seems like a few folks are having trouble knowing what is - and isn't - appropriate when it comes to electronic communication these days, doesn't it?

Here are some helpful hints I received from Phil Cooke, a Burbank TV producer and media consultant. He has a new book out, "Jolt! Get the Jump on a World That’s Constantly Changing.” [The comments in brackets are mine.]

Never say anything in an email that you wouldn’t want known publicly. [I'd add Twitter, Facebook, and other communication media here, obviously.] Once you hit the “send” button, you’ve lost control and you never know who will see it. A single inappropriate email can haunt you for years to come. So never criticize anyone – especially clients, customers, or associates through email. In person is always best method for serious conversations.

Copy the right people – especially when communicating to clients or on business. Cc’ing shows clients you are working as a team. Also, people can’t do an "end run" on an issue when they see others have already read it. Copying the right people keeps everyone in the loop and updated – plus, saves having to send multiple messages.

Don’t over email. Make sure you actually need to respond so you don’t clutter up your mailboxes with unnecessary fluff. And whatever you do, please don’t forward all those cute stories, inspirational moments, or jokes. They waste enormous time, distract us, and bog down our day.

Be very clear, concise, and to the point. [One source of mine told me he keeps his emails to three sentences.] That’s what I love about email. You don’t have to endure the pleasantries of phone conversation: “How’s the family?” “How’s business?” Just get to the point and move on.

Don't check your email first thing in the morning. When you first sit down at your desk, do the most important thing you have to do that day. Get it out of the way, or at least get it started. THEN, check your email. Your productivity will shoot up. [I wish I could do this, but I must make sure one of my East Coast editors or contacts isn't trying to reach me on deadline first thing in the a.m.]

When it comes to mobile devices, learn to put them down. Remember how annoyed you get at the store with the clerk makes you stand there waiting while she talks to someone on the phone? That's the way others feel when you're constantly checking your mobile device. [Why don't more people get this?] In my opinion, the most valuable commodity of the 21st century will be “undivided attention.” Want to share an incredible gift with a loved one, business associate, co-worker or friend? Give them your undivided attention. Trust me – in today’s distracted culture, it will transform your relationships.