Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thesaurus Generator?

A source of mine, customer service guru Micah Solomon, alerted me to something funny last week.

A column in which I interviewed him popped up on an obscure website without any link backs or explanation as to where it came from.

That's not all too uncommon in this age of Internet ripoffs. What was notable about this web version of my column is that it read ike it went through a meatgrinder. Or, rather, a weird thesaurus.

So my words, "good friend" became "fine companion." Micah's book, "Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit," became "Incomparable Service, Incomparable Profit."

My tagline stayed in place, but instead of, "Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues," it now read:


Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers business enterprising and little-business issues.


I kind of like it! I ran a WhoIs search on the offending site and found a Russian address. I sent a "Hey! Cut it out!" email to the address listed for the site admin, but I doubt it will do much.

Anybody else had this happen?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Home-Based Businesses

This Thursday, at 10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. Eastern, the U.S. Small Business Administration will hold a web chat on growing a home-based business.

Here's the pitch:

WASHINGTON – What do Apple Computer, Hershey's, Mary Kay Cosmetics, and the Ford Motor Company have in common? These well-known corporations all started out as home-based businesses. In fact, more than half of all U.S. businesses are based out of an owner's home. Starting a home-based business has many rewards as well as challenges. Join chat host Boyd Wright to learn what it takes to grow a successful home-based business.

Web chat participants can post questions online in advance and on July 28, join the live web chat by going online to SBA.gov, and click on the web chat event under What’s New.

An Exciting Opportunity

This Thursday, I'll be hosting a web chat with John Suh, CEO of LegalZoom.

You can see the broadcast at 11 a.m. Pacific/2 p.m. Eastern. It's part of the CredibilityLIVE series, hosted by Dun and Bradstreet Credibility Corp.

I'll be asking John, a serial entrepreneur, about recruiting talented people, where to look for the next big idea, and the keys to building a successful business.

Check it out!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Old Boys' Club

What do they have in common? Brooksley Born, Sheila Bair, Christina Romer, Elizabeth Warren.

Strong women economists, outside of the old boys' club, responsible first to the American people - including small business owners and those of us who are self-employed.

And all of them sidelined, shut up, insulted and discounted.

There's a disturbing and discouraging pattern here. We need to recognize it and call it out.

(h/t to Desiree, who recommended the excellent Born documentary)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Call It the Soupy Sales Special

In light of the "humble pie" served up to Rupert Murdoch in London yesterday, Businessweek.com does a round up of the high and mighty being felled by baked goods throughout recent history.

It seems that the pie-in-the-face treatment is a favorite of animal rights groups.

But no one mastered the art quite like Soupy Sales.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why the Disconnect?

New job creation is lagging woefully behind, our legislators can't seem to compromise for the public good and the middle class is experiencing record wage stagnation - if they're lucky enough to still be employed at all.

Pretty dismal stuff, right?

Then you get a report like this one, from ThomasNet's Industry Market Barometer:

From upgrading facilities to buying technology, industrial companies are confidently investing in their businesses to build upon a period of sustained growth, according to the results of ThomasNet’s newest Industry Market Barometer™ (IMB).

Nearly half (45 percent) of the companies responding report growth over the last six months of 2010, and 88 percent of those are confident in their future expansion. The survey reveals a set of specific strategies that fueled this growth, from customer retention efforts to movement into new markets and product development. Bolstered by the results of these strategies, respondents are investing more in their companies and recruiting talent in anticipation of increased customer demand.


What in the world is happening to create such a huge disconnect between our economic sectors?

I certainly can't explain it, but it might have something to do with this Tale of Two Recoveries from the New York Times.

Even as the stock market and industrial production have recovered strongly over the past few years, jobs and personal income are way down.

Thomas Friedman addresses one of the causes in his New York Times column:

Look at the news these days from the most dynamic sector of the U.S. economy — Silicon Valley. Facebook is now valued near $100 billion, Twitter at $8 billion, Groupon at $30 billion, Zynga at $20 billion and LinkedIn at $8 billion. These are the fastest-growing Internet/social networking companies in the world, and here’s what’s scary: You could easily fit all their employees together into the 20,000 seats in Madison Square Garden, and still have room for grandma. They just don’t employ a lot of people, relative to their valuations, and while they’re all hiring today, they are largely looking for talented engineers.


What does this mean? Basically, we must all adopt entrepreneurial mindsets, and plan our careers accordingly. Here's how Friedman concludes, quoting an upcoming book by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Garrett Hoffman:

It also means using your network to pull in information and intelligence about where the growth opportunities are — and then investing in yourself to build skills that will allow you to take advantage of those opportunities. Hoffman adds: “You can’t just say, ‘I have a college degree, I have a right to a job, now someone else should figure out how to hire and train me.’ ” You have to know which industries are working and what is happening inside them and then “find a way to add value in a way no one else can. For entrepreneurs it’s differentiate or die — that now goes for all of us.”

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ars Gratis ... Huh?

All too often, there's a disconnect between the artistes of this world and the bottom-liners.

We don't always think of business consultants as artsy-fartsy types, but indeed the best among them have strong visionary and creative stripes. They must solve problems by looking into a company's future and devising solutions that are sometimes a bit "out there."

So what happens when they run up against the coin-rattlers, who can't see beyond next quarter's projections? They must finesse the situation, frame their statements and think about "art, for money's sake."

So says my long-time source Ray Coen, food and restaurant consultant extraordinaire, on his blog this week. Check it out - it's a terrific read.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

New Web Series

When you talk about veterans, they don't get much more veteran-y than William Dunkelberg.

Bill is a professor of Economics at the School of Business and Management, Temple University, and served as dean from 1987-94. He was director of the Center for the Advancement and Study of Entrepreneurship from 1991-94.

He's also been the chief economist at the NFIB (National Federation of Independent Business) since 1971. Yes, you read that right: '71!

Expansion, recovery, recession, inflation, stagflation: If it's happened in the U.S. economy in the past 40 years, Bill has had a front row seat.

So when I hear that he is taking to the Inter-webs, I think I'd best alert folks to tune him in. "Your Bottom Line With Bill Dunkelberg” is a new web series geared at simple, clear, demystifying information on what drives the economy and how small business owners fit in.

Check it out.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Woman in DC

Why was outgoing FDIC chair Sheila Bair routinely ignored and frozen out of the old boys' club in DC?

That's the question Joe Nocera asks in this excellent NY Times magazine cover story.

Bair anticipated the subprime mortgage crisis, tried to increase regulations on the industry and opposed big-bank bailouts, instead favoring initiatives designed to help homeowners, not bond owners.

Was she venerated for her foresight and celebrated for her savvy strategy?

Well, not exactly.

Actually, she was vilified for being "difficult" and informed about decisions already made by her male government counterparts. As she leaves her post, she speculates - was she marginalized for being a woman in a man's world, or patronized because she is not an Ivy Leaguer in a power-hungry society?

Read the article and see what you think.

Social Media Tips

Here are some tips on how you can get Facebook working for your small business, courtesy of Schedulicity, an online appointment scheduling company.

While the vast majority of people use Facebook for personal purposes, it is important to create a business page for professional purposes. Some things to consider:

1. Don’t wait to begin using social media. Professionals should create their personal brand from the moment they consider starting a business. Having a solid online presence will allow you to to:

· Gain access to an audience that will read and comment on your social media content

· Begin collecting and storing hundreds of email addresses for email marketing purposes

· Listen to what’s happening professionally in communities

· Monitor competitor and industry pages to stay abreast of current trends

2. Be cautious when choosing the name of a professional Facebook page. Once a page has more than 30 fans, the name cannot be changed. Use an adaptable name, like ‘stylist,’ ‘hair pro,’ ‘financial services professional,’ etc. Avoid any names that are transitory in nature.

3. Keep your personal page and business page very separate. A professional Facebook business page will tell a prospective client that you’re a pro and can act like one.

4. Spotlight others on your Facebook business page. Give credit to employees and clients. Consider it good karma! These people will in turn ‘like’ your page and share glowing reviews – a powerful resource when attracting new clients.

5. Let potential and/or new employers know you’re socially connected. Many businesses, big and small, know that they need a social media presence but they’re unsure how to get started. By already having that experience, you will have an advantage not only for your professional skills, but your social media skills, as well. Being an integral part of any business’ social media presence will ensure a lasting place within that business and a successful career.

6. Engage your audience; make it sticky. Create an 'interest list’ with all the different topics that may interest your target audience. Topics a business may want to consider are:

· Talk about a tradeshow event you'll be attending (before, during and after)

· Share lots of real-time photos on your FB business page

· Review something (products you carry, shows you watch, your new boots, anything that might interest your target audience

· Share business tips of the day or the week (Look for the by using the term 'business tips' on search.twitter.com)

· Think two months down the road and prepare specials based on upcoming holidays

· Showcase your community (i.e. let a local artist hang art in your business and take lots of photos)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Free Shipping

Everyone hates shipping costs. In fact, a recent survey showed that 43% of online shoppers abandon their orders at checkout due to high shipping costs.

Here are some ways you can offer free shipping, brought to you by (who else), Freeshipping.org.

1. Total Free Shipping
Finding a store offering free shipping on every order is like hitting the shopping jackpot. These offers are typically limited to merchants who sell products like jewelry and shoes because they're able to reach the needed profit margins.

2. Free Shipping With Membership
Members-only clubs are becoming increasingly prevelant. Shoppers pay an annual fee to join the club and get free shipping on all of their orders. In some cases, a store credit card provides the same benefits. This can really pay off for customers who make frequent purchases at the same retailer.

3. Minimum Order Shipping
This is the most popular kind of free shipping offer. When shoppers spend a certain amount, the entire order ships for free. In many cases, the magic number isn't far beyond the cost of a typical order.

4. Select Item Shipping
Some merchants offer free shipping only on certain items. This method is regularly used by stores selling bulky products like furniture that are difficult and expensive to ship.

5. Site-to-Store Shipping
Living near a large retail chain can be a big benefit for shoppers. More and more merchants have started offering free shipping on orders shipped to physical store locations. While this method reduces convenience, customers find the extra effort worth it to avoid paying high shipping prices.

6. Return Shipping
Many retailers who sell shoes and clothes will provide free return shipping. Shoppers are then spared the expense of sending back items that don't fit properly. This kind of offer can really draw in customers, with 90 percent saying free shipping offers entice them to spend more.

7. Flat Rate Shipping
With flat rate shipping merchants will ship all orders -- no matter how big or small -- for one set cost. Though it's not exactly free, customers can shop without worrying about huge shipping expenses appearing at checkout.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Hug Challenge

My long-time (former) colleague at Businessweek.com, Michelle Nichols the Savvy Seller, has been pouring her heart and soul into a "hug your kids today" campaign since her son, Mark, died suddenly at 8 1/2 years old from brain cancer in 1998.

She's written a book for working parents, won awards and taken her concept global.

Now she's created the 30-Day Hug Challenge and she needs help spreading the word. Take a look, hug a kid (find a friend or a relative if you don't have one of your own) and send some feedback to Michelle. She's a dear woman determined to make the world a better place.

It really would be a better place if we had more Michelles around.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

How Do You Rate - For Funding?

You've heard of Match.com.

Now there's Boefly.com, an online matching service that connects small business borrowers with lenders, using a compatibility tool similar to the online dating sites.

Boefly has recently put out a "fundability wizard" that gives you a ballpark idea of how "fundable" your business idea or company truly is.

An interesting innovation - one of many tools the Internet is offering up to help small business owners. The problem, of course, is that so few small business loans are actually being made these days.

There's still a chronic shortage of credit, and as a source of mine told me recently, it's a seller's market. So banks can require all sorts of extras from small companies looking to get funding, and they have little recourse but to comply or scuttle their applications.

I'll be writing more about that problem in the column shortly. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Garden Blogging

The tassels are on the corn ...



The bloom is on the tomatoes ...



The melons are setting ...



Summertime in the garden!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cash Flow Goofs

Cash is king in a small business. Understanding and accurately forecasting your cash flow is probably the single best predictor that your company is thriving.

Here are some of the most common errors businesses make when forecasting cash flow, courtesy of Sageworks:

1. Under-Committing. Don't delegate cash flow forecasting to junior-level employees who might lack the understanding of company finances, or overloaded senior staff who lack enough time to dedicate to the area.

2. Over-Optimism. One of the main dangers of cash flow forecasting is overestimating sales. On the flip side, organizations tend to underestimate the occurrence and impact of negative events, making it difficult to recognize and plan accordingly for potential worst-case scenarios. You should always draft best-case and worst-case forecasts and put them to the test to better prepare for potential positive and negative impacts on cash.

3. Not Updating. It is very important to regularly compare your actual cash flow with your prediction so you can make necessary adjustments. It is unrealistic to expect a perfect cash flow projection at first; however, if you review your actual results with regularity, little significant variance will occur.

4. Lack of Communication. Avoid operating within a vacuum and include all members and areas in your organization when creating a cash flow forecast. Developing these communication channels is key to creating an exhaustive cash flow projection. Staff and members of the management team should review the tentative projection and ensure that their initiatives are accounted for.

5. Late Loans. If you think you are going to need a loan, it is better to get one early. A strong cash flow projection will show a loan officer that your business is a good credit risk and a good candidate for a short term loan or line of credit. People tend to overestimate the availability of loans, grants, credit and equity, and this can have a devastating impact on your business later on.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Picture Is Worth

I'm a word person, not particularly a graphics person.

But I have to admit that I find the infographics that have been cropping up really help explain tough concepts and lay out complexities with a punch. They don't replace good reporting, which is based on words, but they put the results into a format that can have a big impact.

Here's one that shows - in graphic detail - how difficult it is for small companies to get the cash or credit they need to run their companies.