Thursday, December 27, 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012

Need A 2.5-Ton Army Truck?

Uncle Sam's best-kept secret: It sells used military vehicles and equipment at pennies on the dollar, most to small business owners.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

Risking Retirement

Small business owners are significantly less likely to have qualified retirement plans for themselves than their peers who are employees of larger companies.

That puts them at much greater risk once they reach retirement. My column this week looks at two new studies on entrepreneurs and retirement.

The news is not encouraging.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How-To Market Your Biz



When I was writing exclusively advice columns, the most common questions I got were about marketing and sales.

I recently learned about a helpful site that can answer just about any question on this topic and help you find and rate marketing professionals.

It's called MarketingZone and it's specifically geared toward small business owners. I spent some time on the site and thought it looked helpful.

Try it out and let me know what you think!


Monday, December 10, 2012

Ask Me Anything - Almost!

Join us tomorrow for a web chat I'm doing for the ICIC, the Institute for a Competitive Inner City.

This is a terrific group, doing good work to lift small businesses, and I'm honored to participate.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Leaving the Nest

Is 2013 the year you'll escape the spare bedroom? Check out my tips for alternative, low-cost office arrangements.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Loan Demand Slow to Start

SBA loan demand is starting off slowly for Hurricane Sandy victims. My column updates the numbers on small businesses.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Is The Love Affair Over?

Only about one-fifth of restaurants and retailers can profitably incorporate daily deal coupons into their marketing plans long-term, says a new study. My question: Will more small biz sour on Groupon, et al?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday, November 23, 2012

I'll Stay Home for Leftovers

You couldn't blast me into the mall today with a stick of dynamite. I'd much prefer to read my colleague's fascinating explanation about branding Black Friday. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Made in the USA designs

Many small garment makers are family-owned and do things the old-fashioned way. Now, an Internet directory is attempting to bring these USA brands online.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Friday, November 16, 2012

Mad Men Wouldn't Go There

A vice president announced that “he had just given his wife syphilis, and everybody laughed.” Must read column from my colleague John Tozzi today.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Shadow Pharmacies

Fascinating investigation into compounding pharmacies (like the New England outfit that distributed meds tainted with meningitis) and how they escaped regulation with help from the "wellness" industry.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Keep It Personal

Keep business expenses for business and the personal, personal. It's not just about tax audits, it's about investors, employees and partnerships.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Flood of Need

The SBA is gearing up to deal with a flood of disaster assistance loan applications from businesses and individuals hit by Sandy.



Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Old Boys' Club

Women are still at a great disadvantage in business leadership, and the problem is getting worse. This is unacceptable:

About 21 percent of new members named to the boards of companies on the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index last year were female, a decline of 9 percent over the past five years, according to executive recruiter Spencer Stuart. And women represent just 16 percent of all directors at companies in the index, barely above the 15 percent level of 2006, Spencer Stuart says.

This despite the fact that companies with women in leadership perform better and attract more outside investment.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Storm Insurance

Sandy-damaged small businesses will need to recoup massive repair expenses. Here's my Q&A with an insurance litigator who specializes in disaster response.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mom Solutions


Last month, I wrote about mompreneurs and how they handle maternity leave. Big surprise: They work through it.

Not much of a surprise to me, actually.

I did take about six weeks with my first son, in 1989, because I was on leave from my newspaper job and getting some benefits.

But by the time my second son was born (21 years ago this week!), I was an entrepreneur. Maternity leave? Not so much.

I'll never forget the shock in my editor's voice as he asked, as we worked through a final story draft on the telephone: "Karen ... are you in the hospital!?"

Well ... yes, I was! The thing I couldn't get him to understand is that the 48 hours after birth was likely to be the most relaxing downtime I would get for months. Heck, there was a whole nursery staff working around the clock to take care of my baby!

I heard from another mompreneur after that initial column ran and I've been meaning to share it here. This feedback is from Laura Mather, founder of Silver Tail Systems, an anti-fraud startup that yesterday was acquired by data storage giant EMC.

Laura is the former director of fraud prevention at eBay and a former analyst with the NSA. She recently had a baby:

Thanks for the great article, Karen.  As a female entrepreneur who just had a baby, I can definitely relate to the issues around maternity leave and making sure the business continues to run well.  For me, there were a few ways to address this.  One key helper (which can also be a complication) is that I'm married to my co-founder.  Because of this my husband has a great understanding of the demands on my time and we can often cover for each other when needed.  
One strategy I took to make maternity leave easier was to split up my maternity leave.  My son was born on Dec. 13, 2011 (two weeks early!) and I was able to take 10 weeks off through late February.  
Unfortunately, there was a critical conference at the end of February that I had to attend, and that governed when I went back to work. Dividing my maternity leave has made it so that I could take a reasonable amount of time off without being gone for extended periods of time.The next thing I did was make sure the company was up and running before having a child.  This is not an option for everyone, but my husband and I knew we wanted children, but we decided to delay having children until we had given two years to the company.    
Finally, I have been working part-time since the baby was born.  My husband likes to joke that my going part-time was the only way he could get me to limit my work to 40 hours per week, but that has definitely made my life better.

Thanks for the feedback, Laura, and congrats on the acquisition - way to go!

Meet the Vegepreneurs

Vegetarian entrepreneurs are moving beyond restaurants and into fashion, furniture and myriad other companies.

What motivates them and how do they view their competitors? Check out my column this week.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Struggling to Save

Working until you are in your 80's? Pretty tough for the one-third of Americans who now say they are delaying retirement later and later.

As they struggle to save for retirement, a growing number of middle-class Americans plan to postpone their golden years until they are in their 80's. Nearly one-third, or 30%, now plan to work until they are 80 or older -- up from 25% a year ago, according to a Wells Fargo survey of 1,000 adults with income less than $100,000.
It's sad and a sign of desperation. Yes, we're living longer and we're healthier than previous generations. But realistically, not many of us will have the physical stamina or cognitive skills to continue as octogenarians.

Let's not mention the idea of the "golden years," when we're supposed to get the chance to pursue hobbies, volunteer time to cherished causes, travel, visit with grandkids or write those memoirs.

How can we do that with numbers like this?:
About 34% of middle-class Americans expect their retirement income to be 50% or less of their current annual income. Given Census Bureau data showing a median household income of $50,054 in 2011, this would mean living on roughly $25,000 or less per year -- which is near the poverty line for a family of four, the report found.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Writing for Business

Looking for a marketing writer or communications expert for your small business? You can't go wrong with my friend Kim Dixon Perez.  Check out her new website and blog, it's great.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Alternative Funding Sources

Half of angel money goes to medical devices, software, and biotechnology. What other sources are there for startup funding?

To glean would-be entrepreneurs’ ideas, I spoke to the founders of three startups. One got a loan from a micro-lender. Businesses such as Microsoft (MSFT) chipped in technology and services for the second. The last founder did manage to get rich folks to bet on her by joining a network that supports women who run promising growth businesses.

Check out this week's column!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

You're Fired

Employment discrimination claims and wrongful termination suits are up since the Great Recession. Get a lesson from the experts on how to respond.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Congrats, Boss!

I'm very proud to be a part of this journalistic success story in the new-media age.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Take It or Lease It

Negotiating a commercial lease is one of the most financial consequential - and probably least-prepared-for aspect of small business.

Check out my tips on how startups can get the best deal possible when signing a lease.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Taxpocalypse 2012

Tax planning is at an all-time level of complexity this year, what with an election and a "fiscal cliff" looming.

In this column, I run through a few details small business owners will want to discuss with their accountants before year's end.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Obamacare 2013

New health care reform provisions will roll out in 2013. How many affect small business owners and the self-employed?

I run through a list - and examine a couple of interesting new studies - in this week's column.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Wise Up

Having women in senior executive positions helps start-ups succeed. That's not just anecdote or common sense anymore, it's been shown in a Dow Jones analysis.

My colleague John Tozzi asks when venture capital firms - notorious "old boys clubs" - will sit up and take notice.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Bad, Bad Customer

Every small business owner has experienced it: The customer who gets the product or service and then "forgets" to pay the invoice.

A Long Island business owner is fed up with these serial offenders ("rich kleptomaniacs" he calls them) and he's fighting back.

Read about his website, in my column this week.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Night Market in the 626

Read about entrepreneur Jonny Hwang, the Alhambra man behind the 626 Night Market, in my column this week.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Latina Superstar

I've had the privilege and fun of interviewing Martha de la Torre several times over the years.

She and her husband founded and run El Clasificado, a Spanish-language classified advertising publication. They started the niche business in 1988 and have worked and worked building it up to the fantastic success it is today.

Before Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was distracted last week by another story, he was in Los Angeles at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce conference and he called out Martha and Joe, highlighting their entrepreneurial success.

They have won numerous awards and tell me they've just reached weekly circulation of 500,000 and expanded outside of California in Yuma, Arizona.

You couldn't find nicer, more dedicated entrepreneurs - congrats!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Entrepreneur Moms

I was already self-employed when my second son was born. I remember calling an editor the next day, to work on a piece I had written for the Los Angeles Times.

After a few pleasantries and congratulations, he suddenly stopped and said, "Karen, are you calling from ... your hospital room!?" 

I sheepishly admitted that indeed, I was. He chastised me until I explained that I felt fine and this was as much down time as I was going to get for several weeks, with a newborn and a two-year-old at home. 

Heck, the hospital was pure refuge! Other moms at the time were advocating for quick returns home or even home births. I was like, "Hey, let me stay in the hospital for a week, like in the good old days! Meals brought in (okay, such as they were), a private room, help at the push of a button and an entire staff to provide expert care to my baby when I need a nap. What's wrong with that!?"

This week I write about entrepreneur moms, only to find out that they're doing the same thing I did: Staying in touch with work even from the hospital, grabbing a few hours a day to keep up with the office. It's not really avoidable when you work for yourself!  

Holiday Website Tips

I'm not thinking about holiday shopping yet - I wait until crunch time every year - but some of my Facebook friends already are.

That's why small business owners who sell online need to spruce up their sites for the holidays now instead of two months from now.

I write about 10 things entrepreneurs can do to improve holiday sales in my column this week. And I let you in on the reason that shopping season's going to start early this year. Think latkes.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Free Web Tutorial


Get help identifying which government agencies your small business should target for contracts in this webinar on Sept. 26.

One of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make is spreading their marketing message around haphazardly and wasting time and money on people who will never become customers.

The same goes for small business owners who want to sell to the government.

The webinar next Wednesday "will equip business owners with the tools and methodologies to determine the right agencies to pursue for business success. Mastering the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS) will help participants understand what their top agencies buy, who they bought it from, when they bought it, and the procurement method used to buy it. This interactive session will leave participants with an understanding of who their top five federal agencies are."

Register at the link above. The web tutorial takes place at noon Pacific/3 p.m. Eastern time. Gotta love free stuff!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Home Is Where the Kitchen Is

For decades, most states have required food producers to whip up their concoctions in commercial kitchens.

The recession has changed that. Would-be entrepreneurs are pushing for changes that would allow them to make non-potentially hazardous food products at home and sell them to the public.

My column this week examines the "baker's bill" movement, with particular reference to recent legislation in California and South Carolina.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Just Say No

This is why I never, ever, ever agree to anything proposed over an unsolicited phone call.

Thanks to the Do Not Call list, I rarely get those calls anymore, though I have gotten a couple just recently.

But I have no trouble giving them a resounding, "No," or a "Send me something in writing and I'll consider it," when I do. Not surprisingly, they never follow up.

Shame on these charities for using deceptive tactics, and rather shocking, given how well-known they are. Bravo to Bloomberg Markets for an excellent investigative piece. Glad journalism is still digging in to things like this.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

When You're Smiling

The whole world smiles with you - right?

But those in trouble, grieving, facing financial trouble and failing in business are often isolated and confused.

My column this week deals with the difficulties and contradictions of failure, something we don't understand or study enough.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Retail for the Non-Religious

Is there a market for small business to sell to the godless?

My column this week explores the opportunity - check it out.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Book Length

I haven't written a book, but I'm lucky enough to know some talented people who have.

I am, however, what might be called an "avid" reader. My family sometimes calls me a fanatical reader.

So I enjoyed this discussion about book editing (which I do have some experience doing) and the optimal length for various kinds of books.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Negocios Hispanos

Hispanic entrepreneurs open twice as many businesses as the national average, but  lag behind in revenue and employees.

I write about what keeps Hispanic business owners from growing larger and becoming as successful as their non-Hispanic counterparts in this week's column.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Next New Thing?

Economic development agencies and nonprofits are teaming up to provide free entrepreneurial training for unemployed Americans.

I write about some of the programs, and their overall impact, in my column this week.

Overall this may be a good trend but what worries me is there's little long-term data that proves efficacy for these programs. What we do know is that about half of all businesses that start in a given year are still in business five years later; about one-third make it to their 10th anniversary.

Those numbers hold pretty steady over time. They don't necessarily mean all those businesses fail - some are acquired, sold or merged in lucrative or at least positive outcomes. But others certainly do fail, costing their owners and investors a good deal of money.

All this reminds me of when my sons were in school and there were constant introductions of new programs that were designed to "save" public education. The main problem: None of them were proven, and few even tested, to adequately demonstrate that the outlay of money, time, effort and educational shift was worth it.

We seem to constantly be looking for save-all solutions in society. We get enthusiastic about new efforts, but we lag behind on the testing and benchmarking tasks. Let's hope these new programs are successful and that we soon have data to prove that.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Our Businesses, Ourselves


When I speak to small business groups, I always emphasize how important it is for them to let their personalities shine through.

Faceless corporate brands simply cannot compete with locally owned businesses when it comes to relationship - the most important thing for all of us humans, because we are primarily social animals.

LogoGarden, a "make it now" logo company, suggests that its clients become their own cheerleaders in order to gain customers and fans. Keep yourself out front as a pillar of your own brand values and you'll establish brand loyalty over time, the company says.

Here are their questions to help you determine how you can become a solid extension of your brand:

1.)What makes you different? What sets you apart from the competition as a brand ambassador and human being? Use those skills and ideas to promote your company. Communicating your message in a consistent and intriguing way will dictate how people relate to your company.

2.)What are you most proud of in your company? Do you donate profits to charitable organizations? Do you enlist summer interns in order to help them gain valuable experience? Whatever it is, shout it from the rooftops! People want to know why they should give you their money and they want to feel good about where they are putting it.

3.) What do I want people to remember my company by? Aside from putting out a superb product, do you want to be known for old-fashion customer service? Do you want to be looked at as modern and fast? Everything you do from the way you respond to an email to the way you carry on a phone conversation will be part of your brand’s larger message.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Humble CEO

Do you have heart, smarts, guts or luck? Maybe you're hitting on all cylinders?

The question is posed in a new book co-authored by a fascinating guy, Richard J. Harrington, who is in large part responsible for the success of information behemoth Thomson Reuters.

I had a fun conversation with Harrington for a Q&A I wrote recently. Sometimes a man that powerful and experienced is no fun to interview, preferring to talk down, patronize and rush me off the phone if he thinks I'm asking too many questions.

(Salon republished a great piece on this kind of guy recently.)

Not so with Harrington. Like many of the best entrepreneurs, I found him authoritative and intelligent but also humble, friendly and interested in a two-way conversation, rather than delivering me a sales pitch or droning on with a lecture.

Really refreshing. It's even more refreshing to see that that attitude is the norm rather than exception for the most powerful people I interview - believe it or not.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Young Dreamers

Last week, long lines of unauthorized immigrants formed in major cities across the country. They were waiting for applications for "deferred action," a new Obama Administration program that will put them out-of-reach of deportation and give them authorization to work - at least for two years.

This is the alternative to the Dream Act, which Obama supported but couldn't get through Congress.

Small businesses are expected to be the employers of choice for these young people once they get work cards. This week, I write about how small employers should handle the new applicants and what they should do if existing employees present authorization cards on the job.

One tip: The news that someone has gotten a card should be confined to the personnel files, not announced in the company newsletter, lest privacy concerns be violated.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Kicking Back

This spring, I wrote about the new crowdfunding law that will allow average people to invest in small businesses.

The fear of some experts I talked to is that it will be all-too-easy for scammers to collect money online and then vanish. The SEC, currently writing the regs governing crowdfunding, likely has this scenario in mind.

But another, more basic, caution is just how risky - and illiquid - startup business investments are, something unsophisticated investors may not fully understand.

Now, we've got some indication of what kinds of return startup companies are providing on one of the early crowdfunding platforms Kickstarter.

This new report shows that 75 percent of the funded projects are not being completed on time. And the investors are getting restless.

Here's a reality check from one of the entrepreneurs who is struggling to deliver:
“It didn’t really seem on the surface like it was going to be that challenging, but it has been extremely challenging,” he said. “A lot, lot slower than I expected. A lot, lot more money than I expected to spend.”
That scenario is typically true for all startup entrepreneurs. It's something to keep in mind for next year, when crowdfunding will actually involve equity in the company (as opposed to gifts and products, as is typical now) and will be open to a wider audience.



Friday, August 17, 2012

Giving Up Control

Many times, founders are negotiated out of their companies by outside investors. They aren't able to successfully manage growing concerns and aren't hitting their benchmarks, so they have to go.

But other times, founders themselves recognize that they can't scale up a company and they are grateful to bring in the pros.

I explore the idea in this week's column - check it out!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Two Roads Diverged

So many times, small decisions have big repercussions.

Take this guy, who made a wacky, spur-of-the-moment decision and has used it to tell the same story for the last decade.

Or take Lynda Weinman, founder of lynda.com. She was an animator and computer artist who taught digital and web design at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena in the mid 1990s. She tried to find computer manuals for her classes but was horrified by how badly they were written: So she decided to write a textbook herself, in plain English instead of tech-speak.

Most textbooks don't hit the best-seller list, but Designing Web Graphics did. Not only was it widely accessible, but Weinman hit a sweet spot in timing in 1996, when web graphics were just starting to be understood by the general public and business community.

The book was reprinted, rewritten four times and translated into dozens of languages. Weinman and her husband, Bruce Heavin, earned several hundred thousand dollars in royalties, moved to Ojai and used $20,000 to start a company.

In 2011, lynda.com had revenues of $70 million.

A frustration with bad books, a decision to create something better, and Weinman and Heavin's lives took a turn they most definitely never expected.




Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dealing With Debt?

I like these microsites that the FTC and USA.gov are putting up on various topics.

Short and practical, they present the top financial issues that an individual might be dealing with and don't overwhelm with too much information and complexity.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Level the Playing Field

Everybody loves small business these days. But they get shafted by the tax code, especially on charitable deductions.

Why the disparity? Large corporations can "twist the arms" of Congress (financially speaking, of course) and small companies don't have that clout.

Is it time to even the playing field? I ask that question in a recent column.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Our Dogs, Ourselves

Dogs and cats have gone from living in the barn to sleeping in our beds (not mine, but some peoples'!).

That trend fuels the introduction of fresh dog- and cat-food, says Freshpet CEO Richard Thompson. But how difficult is it to introduce a whole new product category? Check out my column today.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Aging in Place

Where are the best places to live successfully as you get older? This study ranks the top 20 metro and rural areas.

Curiously, none of them are on the West Coast and only one, Gainesville, Fla., is in what might be considered a traditional retirement area. Interesting.

It turns out that most Americans want to stay put as they get older. I wrote recently about how contractors and remodelers can take advantage of the desire from aging homeowners to refurbish their houses to accommodate their changing needs.  

Friday, July 27, 2012

The End of Writers?

This article claims that writing is set to disappear as a profession, because there's so much free content available online.

I'm skeptical. Yes, the Internet is changing writing in general, and journalism specifically, in huge ways.

But while lots of people want to write, not everybody can do it well. In fact, most people don't do it very well, from what I can tell as a lifelong avid reader. And I think the public will always be willing to pay something for the best writing, no matter how much free dreck is available out there.

Consider this: There are likely millions of recipes and food tips available for free online. I quit buying cookbooks and used Google recipe for a while, but I was never very happy with my results.

Then, earlier this year, I found Cook's Illustrated. For a modest annual fee, I get unlimited access to quality, tested recipes, detailed product comparisons and instructional videos. It's fantastic and I'm happy to pay for it.

I think that's where writing is going, as readers claw their way through lots of free material of varying quality and decide to continue paying for their favorite stuff.

What do you think?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Trade Ya

Barter is one of those concepts that sounds good, but never seems to get real traction.

Learn how trade exchanges work and whether they can help you conserve cash and win new business in your company's downtime.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Author, Author!

So, you think you want to be an author! Congrats.

Now read these humorous - and practical - tips  on how to write a best-selling business book over at the BW Small Biz site.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Forever Young?

Baby Boomers have reinvented themselves, and remodeled their homes, more than any other generation.

Now, they are set for one last frenzy of remodeling, this time to enable them to stay put as they get older. If contractors, two-thirds of whom are one-man shops, can persuade them they're not forever-young Peter Pans, they can win substantial new business in the next few years.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Don't Get Scammed

Looking for entrepreneurial opportunities? Watch out for sophisticated-looking ripoffs. 

I saw some of these websites and they are pretty persuasive, sadly.

The USA.gov site has these tips for spotting frauds:


The potential employer says you can make fast money working from home.
You are asked to pay money to the employer up front.
Emails from the employer are full of spelling and grammatical errors.
The employer asks for personal and bank account information upfront.
You are asked to transfer money through Western Union or MoneyGram.

Shoeless in Saudi

It's a tough road for a Lebanese shoemaker to export patented products to the U.S. for an Internet "flash sale."

See what my experts advise in this week's column.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Teaching Teens

It seems controversial these days, but not everyone is cut out for a four-year college course of study.


There are good jobs - jobs going begging, in fact - in the trades and manufacturing areas where many people have strong aptitude. But because they no longer involve just "swinging a hammer," qualified applicants need to get some post-secondary training in order to do them.


Check out my column about some small manufacturers partnering with high schools to train future employees.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Lost In Translation

A reader asks about the future of the translation industry, which is dominated by small firms.

My take? Despite the encroachment of technology, translating and interpreting are pretty much "recession-proof."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Hanger Hang-Up

Do those wire hangers from the dry cleaners bug you as much as they bug me?

They're too flimsy to keep using, but I hate tossing them out. I recently donated a bundle of them to the local charity that picks up old clothes from my doorstep. They use them to display clothes in their thrift store.

But it's nice to know that dry cleaners themselves (most of whom are small businesses) are getting into the act. In fact, the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (who knew?) aims to recycle enough steel to match six Statues of Liberty:


That's 750 tons of steel. In addition to her 125 tons of steel, Lady Liberty also contains 31 tons of copper and her base is made of 27,000 tons of concrete. As of today, participating cleaners have pledged to reuse or recycle 16 million hangers, the 2012 goal is 25 million.
Here's a list of drycleaners who are participating in the recycling program. Look one up in your area and give them a try.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Road Map to Success

What does it take to be an entrepreneur?

Check out this road map and see how you fit the image:
Rasmussen College

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Evolve or Die

Small businesses must change with the times, or go the way of the buggy-whip makers. 

A new survey showed that more than half of small companies surveyed have reinvented their operations in the past two years. Check out my column on the topic, and while you're there take a look at Roscoe, the Bed Bug Hunting Beagle, and watch the ABC news report on how he does his thing. He's pretty amazing.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Teaming Up For Success

Small- and mid-sized companies that team up to win government contracting work are more successful than those who try to go it alone.

Read my column on the topic this week.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Dancing Fool

I am such a sucker for stuff like this, I think because it uniquely demonstrates such a tantalizing possibility: That we are all the world's people and none of the artificial barriers, despots and borders should be able to keep us apart forever.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Amway Et Al

My story on how regulation of the multi-level marketing industry failed to go through made the Bloomberg website today.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Doing Good by Doing Well

Check out America's most-promising social entrepreneurs for 2012.

Our readers nominated some fascinating companies doing all sorts of terrific work around the world and here at home.

Look at the slide show and then cast your vote for the top company of the year.

Innies Vs Outies

No, we're not talking about belly buttons. (Greatest name for a body part ever, except for the funny bone.)

We're talking introverts vs extroverts and how they perform as CEOs. Check out this fascinating article on the topic from Amex OPEN.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Woman In The Moon


China sent its first woman astronaut into space this week. The news prompted a source of mine, James Chan, to muse about a Tang dynasty poem that tells the myth of Chang'e, the goddess who lives on the moon.

The poem, by Li Shangyin, predicts the regret Chang’e must feel, for though she has gained the perfection of heaven, she no longer has love and companionship. The poem "strikes an unbearable melancholy and anguish in the heart of anyone who understands and values love and human companionship," James writes. (Pretty artsy stuff for a business consultant, but as a former English major, I'm with him all the way!)

Watch the YouTube video of James reciting the poem and remembering his own childhood growing up in Hong Kong, where his mother's longed to have the same opportunities as a man.

Here's the poem's literal translation:

On the screen made with mother-of-pearl, shadows of burning candles get deeper and deeper
The Milky Way (Long River in the sky) gradually descends with nightfall and the morning stars have sunk low.
Chang’e should regret having stolen the magical pill (of immortality)
Because, every night, facing the deep blue sea, an azure sky, her lonely heart yearns for her love.
  
"All Chinese people, with no exception, knows of the myth and the story. I hope my inadequate command of the English language could help you come up with a translation that gets into the hearts of all Americans. That would be lovely," James writes. No need for my help, James, your translation is beautiful, thank you.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Reveal Day


Last week, I wrote about how Internet addresses are about to multiply exponentially due to applications for new "top-level domains" - i.e. the .com, .net, and org extensions.

Today was "reveal day," when ICANN (the organization that controls Internet names and numbers) put out the final list of all new top–level domain applications.

Here are some noteworthy items from my source who studies these things:


Amazon applied for 76 new gTLDs. Google applied for 101. Microsoft for 11. Facebook and Twitter did not apply.


Bloomberg applied for .Bloomberg, so our website may change sometime in the future - or maybe not.

There are 230 domains for which at least two applications were submitted.
Some interesting matchups to watch: Who will get .Tires? Goodyear or Bridgestone? Who will get .Mail? Google or Amazon?

After a comment period, ICANN will begin releasing the new domains early next year. Should be interesting.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

It's Negotiable


Negotiating confidently takes practice and confidence. It's often a weak point for small business owners and the self-employed, who give away too much, too soon.

Recently, a self-employed friend got caught off-guard with a request for her hourly rate. Flustered, she blurted out a price $10/hour lower than her already-undervalued compensation rate.

She needs the work and is happy to have a new contract. But a deep breath and a dose of nerve could have made the job far more worthwhile.

Here's a book that might have helped: The Pocket Small Business Owner’s Guide to Negotiating (Allworth Press, June 2012).

I haven't read it, so can't vouch for it, but I'm encouraged to learn that the author is a long-time small business owner himself. And I like the idea that it includes some sample negotiation scenarios, because I learn best by observing a process rather than studying it academically (and I bet a lot of self-employed/small biz owners feel the same!).

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Reality Check

Inventors have it tough. Getting from concept to prototype to market successfully is like navigating a mine field.

Not the least of the pitfalls are scammers who flatter and cajole their way to taking the naive inventor's money and showing no results.

Check out my column of cautionary advice to a frustrated inventor.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Fill 'er Up

A Redwood City, CA small business wants to change the way you fuel your car. Check out my profile of Propel Fuels

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Are You Paying 30 Percent?

Recently, I wrote about how retirement investment plans will have to disclose their fees and expense ratios this summer. For the first time, both business owners and their employees will get a chart showing how much of the retirement savings is drained off to pay administrative and investment costs.

This week, we got a preview in the form of a disturbing study showing average 401(k) fees reduce total retirement savings by 30 percent. Industry disputes those findings, but everyone seems to agree that the costs are too high and there's too little transparency.

This summer, that's going to change as part of a trend toward better financial information getting out to Americans. Do you have an employer-sponsored retirement account? If so, do you know how much you pay now? If not, do you track expenses in your IRAs or mutual fund investments?

I was always told to look for overall expense ratios of 1% or less in my self-employed accounts. I'll be interested to see how our employer-sponsored plan shakes out.

Staying Small

Not every entrepreneurial venture follows the same trajectory. Take Lee Loree, inventor of the SleepTracker.

He has a $3 million company, selling an innovative tech product, yet he still works from home, has no employees and runs his entire company on an iPad.

Sure, he could scale up, hire employees and bring on private equity investors intent on securing a big payday down the line. But Loree's happy with his 10 to 20 percent annual growth, the challenges of selling internationally and the lifestyle he enjoys as a dad-entrepreneur.

Read more about him in my column this week.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Get It For Free

Ever looked over a website and wondered: Just how do they make money at this?

Of course you have! It's part of a paradigm shift called the Freemium model. Here's a little explainer I found helpful:

price of free
Price of Free

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

IPO Job Boost or Bust?

An oft-cited statistic that links job growth to initial public offerings is overblown, my colleague John Tozzi reports this week.

He took a look at new research that undermines one of the major lobbying points for the JOBS Act recently signed into law that legalizes equity crowdfunding for small biz and startups.


Monday, May 21, 2012

How Much Are You Paying?

If you have a 401(k) or another type of employer-sponsored retirement account, do you know how much you pay in expenses and fees, or how much your employees pay?

Starting this summer, the U.S. Department of Labor is requiring pension providers to lay out that information in a comparative chart for employers and employees. The rules, reportedly long fought by the financial industry, may bring a shock if you find that your administrative fees and fund management expenses are taking a big bite out of your retirement savings.

Yes, the information can probably be found in the fund prospectuses (prospecti?) for all the investments you own. But lots of people do not know that or do not take the time to dig it up. Yet it may mean a 40 percent difference in how much you have saved up when you retire.

Americans' confidence about their ability to retire comfortably is at a new low. So finding out how much you're paying - and getting a better deal if you're overpaying - is one step in the right direction. Look for your disclosure form no later than July 1 if you're a business owner; Aug. 30 if you're an employee.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Fatigued, Much?

Women and people of color are not yet at parity in business, yet when we should care about race and gender, diversity fatigue has set in.

Read why and what to do about it - and why you should care, in the first place - in my column this week.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Birds, Sweet and Not

Journalist Steve Scauzillo (aka my better half) weighs in on sweet - and bittersweet - encounters with nature.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Speaking Of ...

You truly gave a wonderful program. You were so engaging and had a great sense of humor.

I am surprised that this is something you have just started feeling comfortable doing,  you seem like a seasoned pro.


A couple years' ago, I would never have believed that this message described me and a recent speaking gig. In fact, I would never have gotten such a message, because although I am asked to speak to business groups occasionally, I dreaded doing it.

And I'm sure that reluctance showed.

Basically an introvert by nature, I had all the reservations of most people who hate/fear/dread public speaking. Worst of them was the idea that when I got up to give a talk, I sounded nervous, unprepared and amateurish, even when I had practiced and practiced.

Then my friend, Lilli Cloud of Cloud Communications, offered to help. "We'll set up the recorder and get you on video. That way we can see what you're doing and how I can help," she said.

Somehow, this idea filled me with horror. I was sure my worst fears would be realized, and in front of Lilli, no less. But she persisted, and finally I went through with it.

Lo and behold, I wasn't half bad! All the glitches, pauses and stammers I felt were sabotaging my communications just looked like normal speaking. We tried it again, with me more relaxed and focused on telling stories, rather than reading my notes. Better still!

I never thought I'd say this, but I've become something of a ham. I enjoy speaking to groups and get up in front with confidence and even a glimmer of delight.

Why tell this story? It truly is about confronting your worst fears and realizing - they're not so bad. I'm still not bungee-jumping or getting on the next super-coaster, but speaking I can do. And I can recommend Lilli, whose talents are richly appreciated.

They say people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death. I can honestly say I'm not afraid of either, these days!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Real Deal


I often get asked about how entrepreneurs can get government grants. Short answer: They probably can't.

That's because grants to start for-profit enterprises are more pernicious myth than reality. Yes, there is government seed money available for technologies that further scientific research and homeland security - but very few startups would qualify.

There are, however, some foundations and private companies that give grants to small businesses; here's one: The Eileen Fisher Business Grant Program for Woman Entrepreneurs awards up to five grants of $12,500.

The grant program was launched in 2004 with a single grant of $20,000 to commemorate the apparel company’s 20th anniversary. Since then, up to five grants have been awarded each year to 100-percent women-owned businesses that combine the principles of social consciousness, sustainability and innovation to create new businesses or invigorate existing ones.

Deadline to apply is coming up next Tuesday, May 15. Only for-profit businesses or for-profit/ nonprofit hybrids are eligible for the grant. If your company fits the criteria, give it a try!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Women's Work

If you're not listening to Planet Money, and you care about the economy, you should be.

Heck, even if you don't care about the economy, Planet Money will make you care.

Check out this interesting graphic that shows how women's employment has changed in the past 40 years.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

RIP Rufus



I got the news this week that Rufus died, succumbing last weekend, as too many horses do, to the intestinal malady called equine colic. Rufus was the big, handsome chestnut in the photo above (credit Carol Reynolds, The Riding Coach).

I first met Rufus while taking riding lessons in the '00s. He was a proud, confident horse who always led our riding school group on the trails, stepping out smartly and swishing his tail impatiently when he had to wait for the slower horses to catch up.

He was also fearless; horse people call it "bomb-proof." Where a blowing leaf or skittering squirrel might make other horses freeze or bolt, Rufus never twitched. He would simply take a look at the trouble, toss his mane at all the fuss and keep walking. Riding Rufus, I always felt completely protected; I knew he would get me home safely.

But I didn't get to ride him right away. Because he was much more willing to move out than some of the other lesson horses, he was generally reserved for instructors and more advanced students of The Riding Coach. The first time I got up on Rufus, the sheer energy radiating off him was palpable - and a little scary!

As soon as I learned to relax and handle him calmly, even when he was dancing around with adrenaline, he was a sheer pleasure to ride. All it took was the slightest hint of a heel on his flank, and a subtle loosening of his reins, to ease him into a smooth, comfortable canter.

Rufus was not a cuddly horse, being more interested in playing with his stable mates than pleasing his humans. But he had good ground manners and was generally polite.

There was one special trick he had, though, and he invariably pulled it anytime a newbie was assigned to tack him up (i.e., groom, saddle and bridle him). As soon as the bridle came out, he would clench his teeth and refuse to take the bit until a horse cookie was produced. On his best days, he could manage to suck the cookie into his mouth and still escape the bit, something I am certain gave him great delight.

The day I was able to slip the bridle over his head with enough confidence to cause him to automatically open his mouth for the bit, was the day I knew I was becoming a good horsewoman. He never tried his trick with me again.

I'm sad that Rufus is gone, but happy that he had a wonderful life, regular exercise and meticulous care. He managed to make many people fall in love with him, including me, and he brought joy to us all.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Campfire Stories

Think you'd like to run a summer camp? Maybe you want to think again.

Not that it's not profitable - if you run things right, it certainly can be. But if you don't have legacy property in a scenic area and thousands of alums whose kids must go to summer camp like they did, it's a tough business to break into.

Read my round up of summer camp businesses in this week's column.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Money Smart

I wrote about online entrepreneurial training not long ago and found a mixed bag of the good, bad and the ugly.

Now there's a new player in the space, Money Smart for Small Business, developed jointly by the The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The free curriculum consists of 10 introductory training modules covering topics including financial management, record keeping, risk management and tax planning and reporting. According to the agencies involved, "Money Smart for Small Business provides an introduction to day-to-day business organization and planning and is written for entrepreneurs with limited or no prior formal business training. It offers practical information that can be applied immediately, while also preparing participants for more advanced training."

If every aspiring entrepreneur took this course, I might be out of a job! (But I don't think that's gonna happen.)

The small business course is the latest offering in the FDIC’s Money Smart program, which includes a personal finance guide that clears up ambiguities around topics such as credit, consumer protection and savings. Too bad more people didn't take the home ownership and mortgage introduction courses a few years ago; we all might be in a different situation right now.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Speaking of Freelancers

Freelancer.com CEO Matt Barrie knows a lot about self-employed people. He learns even more through the  Freelancer.com Fast 50, a report that pulls data from his site's 3.3 million+ users and 1.5 million projects.

What's happening in 2012?

“We have seen a huge increase in outsourcing on the whole, with businesses rethinking their strategies moving into the New Year,” Barrie says. On his site, more than 170,000 jobs were posted in the first quarter of 2012, up from 130,000 in Q4 2011.

Projects being posted are also up, more than 30% quarter-over-quarter. "The huge growth in outsourcing is made up of a wide range of different types of projects being completed in countries all across the globe,” Barrie says. Some interesting findings, give it a look.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Speaking of Health Insurance


A lot of my friends and professional colleagues are freelancers, just like I am. Unlike me, many of them must buy their own health insurance because they are not covered by a spouse's policy.

One of the biggest obstacles to quitting an dead-end job or leaving an unhappy workplace is the health insurance obstacle: There's no getting around the fact that good coverage is harder to find and more expensive for freelancers and small business owners.

Here's an online marketplace where freelancers can compare and contrast policies, plans and providers. They recommend that the self-employed consider the following options when they are in the market for insurance:


COBRA: If you've just left your job or been downsized, you probably qualify for COBRA, which references the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 and allows you to stay on your employer-provided insurance for 18 months. It's likely to be cheaper than buying insurance on your own, though you will pay more than you paid as an employee for the same coverage. 
Private Health Insurance: After your COBRA expires, you may need to buy individual health coverage. Welcome to the world of options and price plans, which many experts say is nearly impossible to navigate because there is no consistent way to compare coverage across companies. If and when the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) goes into effect in 2014, your state must provide an online exchange, where you can look at many plans and pick the best for their budget and health needs. If you're young and healthy, and on a tight budget, you might consider a high deductible plan with low monthly payments.

Chamber of Commerce: Most people do not realize that their local Chamber of Commerce offers a small business insurance plan for its local business owners. Get in touch with your branch, see what they offer, and find out whether you have to become a member to get coverage. It might be worth it, not only for the insurance, but for the networking, marketing and other benefits provided.

Freelancers Union: Freelancers seeking health insurance might find what they are looking for with the Freelancers Union or their industry's professional association. The freelancer's group offers free membership and its sole purpose is to support freelancers across the country. You can even opt for dental and disability insurance if you choose. Depending on what industry you are working in, there may be a trade group or professional organization you can join that offers insurance at a better rate than you can get as an individual.




Monday, April 23, 2012

Going Green


According to the Office Depot Small Business Index, 61 percent of small businesses are actively trying to go greener and 70 percent of small businesses anticipate becoming more environmentally conscious over the next two years.

But other than installing a recycle bin and buying energy efficient products, how can they achieve the goal?

Peter Soyka, an environmental management consultant, has a new book, "Creating A Sustainable Organization," that offers some ideas for entrepreneurs and small business CEOs:
-- Provide sustainable investing choices in the employee 401(k) or other retirement plan.
-- Review company travel policies and practices, and determine if changes are warranted to reduce costs and environmental impacts associated with business travel.
-- Develop or strengthen a company-wide employee safety and disaster preparedness procedure, and ensure that it is deployed at all company locations.
-- Develop a carbon footprint for the company.
-- Survey major customers, investors, employees, and other major stakeholders about what environmental, social, and governance behaviors they expect of the firm.
-- Using any pre-existing environmental, health and safety, and/or climate change policies, develop and deploy a company-level sustainability policy.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Business Imitates Art

Did you know that the Holiday Inn hotel chain was named after the Bing Crosby-Fred Astaire movie of Irving Berlin-"White Christmas" fame?

Neither did I! Here's a fun list of real products based on their fictional counterparts.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Spring Cleaning

I have been doing some spring cleaning this month, both in my house and in getting my garden ready for summer. But the idea of spring cleaning social media accounts was a new one when I heard about it from Jennifer Vickery, a social media expert from National Strategies Public Relations.

Here are here recommendations for keeping up with social media and spring cleaning your profile:

1) Go through your e-mails and add the names of contacts to your social media. You can start with LinkedIn. Go straight to that search field and start typing names. Do you collect business cards or have an app that does so for you? Bust this out right now and get going!
 2) When was the last time you had a social media posting? If it was older than 3 weeks ago, you are in need of spring cleaning. First, write a post about you, your company, positive news, upcoming projects, or something to get the ball rolling. Don’t stress too heavily on what to write – just start! Next, whip out your planner and begin writing some broad topics for certain days. Now make sure you post regularly. Our rule of thumb is posting at minimum twice per week for your audience to stay engaged.
3) Spring cleaning still involves cleaning. So, do you have old information on your profile? Maybe you still have a few colleagues or employees who have left your organization and know your social media passwords. Maybe your Facebook Timeline needs some ‘sprucing.' Or perhaps you have some comments which you wish to take down all together. This is the time to get this done.
 4) Too busy to keep your social media tidy? Get one or two employees in your organization, come up with a time-table of who will post and when (that way there is not duplicated effort) and make a plan. You might find this to be a fun project for them to be included in and also showcase new talents.
5) Do you have your LinkedIn profile link on every signature line of your e-mail? Why not? Let others know that you want to connect. Have you had a great accomplishment and want to share with others? Of course you can share this with social media.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Can I Sell You Something?

An effort to require multi-level marketing companies to make certain disclosures to prospective distributors has fallen short. Although the Federal Trade Commission set out to regulate the $28.5 billion industry, which includes large corporations like Amway and Avon, it backed off after a storm of opposition.

The rule that became effective last month does force transparency on work-at-home companies and other scams that frequently rip off the elderly and disabled. But MLMs slipped out of the regulatory net, much to the disappointment of industry critics.

I don't have any experience with the industry, other than having attended my share of Tupperware parties and Mary Kay makeup sessions way back when. But many years ago, we got some new neighbors. They were a friendly family and their son hit it off with our boys.

The guy asked my husband to go out to dinner. I figured he was hoping to make a new friend, but it turned out once the meal arrived, the man started trying to sell Steve on a business opportunity. He beat around the bush, hemmed and hawed, then finally admitted it wasn't friendship he was looking for from Steve: He wanted him to become an Amway distributor.

Once he understood that wasn't a possibility, the dinner ended abruptly. To add injury to insult, the guy came up short on the bill; Steve wound up paying for dinner for the both of them. The friendship never quite materialized, as you might imagine.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Cheaters Never Prosper

Today is tax day, except that it isn't. Not in 2012, when our tax deadline is April 17.

DDB, a global advertising conglomerate, surveyed people about cheating on their taxes. Only 7 percent said they were likely to do so. (Remember, this is self-reporting and most people think they are more honest, upright and beautiful than they actually are.)

What interested me is that those 7 percent who were willing to admit they cheated are very different than those who claimed to be on the up-and-up.

The survey uncovered characteristics that DDB called "chronic wanton behaviors illustrating a skewed moral compass and an inflated sense of entitlement." For example, tax cheats are more likely than noncheats to keep the wrong change given to them by a cashier, take money from their child’s piggy bank that they don’t intend to return, and value their own happiness over that of others.

I went to a fascinating lecture on borderline personality disorder a few years ago; one of the characteristics the psychiatrist talked about was narcissism. Sounds like cheaters fit into the same category somehow.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Crowd Fraud-ing?

The president signed legislation last week that will make it much easier for small companies to raise money through selling equity in their company.

Some say it will make the process too easy, and that the legislation relaxed too many regulatory safeguards - some put into place after previous bouts of scam and scandal.

Now, crowdfunding advocates are coming up with their own ways to police the market. I write about it in this week's Smart Answers column

Whatever happens, it's going to be fascinating to watch this all play out when the new law goes into effect in early 2013. Let me know if you have any story tips on this topic. I'm sure I'll be writing more about it.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Tax Time Help

It's that time again, when all good Americans must come to the aid of their country - and pay up.

Not to gloat, but my taxes were filed weeks ago and I even got a refund this year, for about the first time in a decade. (Okay, I am gloating a little - but hey.)

Anyway, if you haven't gotten around to that box of receipts or online spread sheet yet, there is help available. For instance, The Free File Alliance, a coalition of leading tax software companies, and the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program offer free tax software and face-to-face tax help for taxpayers who made $50,000 or less last year.

Through this new partnership, Free File Alliance member software is now available at self-assist computer kiosks found in nearly 300 VITA locations across 29 states. Eligible taxpayers can access these kiosks and use this brand-name software to prepare and e-file their tax returns.

Another bit of good news: Tax day is Sept. 17 this year, so you've got two additional days to procrastinate!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Startup Troubles

A good number of startup businesses fail. Either they never quite make it out of the gate, or they sputter for a few furlongs and then run out of steam. But why?

In my interview with Harvard prof Noam Wasserman, he posits some theories, most of them about people problems.

When Noam mentioned that we in the entrepreneurship community too often rely on flashy, splashy role models and gut instinct, instead of empirical data and solid research, he had this skeptic won over. He's so right - and his advice is spot-on. Give it a read.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Winning Women


The deadline is April 30 for applicants to the 2012 Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Women competition. You can apply for yourself or nominate a deserving woman entrepreneur.

I've written in the past about how few women enter business contests. In fact, so few enter general business contests that sponsors like Ernst & Young have created programs specifically for women.

Now, a case study from Babson College shows that contest winners have created significant job and revenue growth during the worst years of the recession. Program participants’ companies have grown almost 50 percent each year on average, with a corresponding average annual job growth rate of more than 25 percent, according to the case study.

To apply for the program, applicants must fit the following criteria:

Founding woman CEO of a privately held US company
Company must have reported at least $1 million in sales within each of the last 2 years
Venture must be less than 10 years old
Entrepreneur must be able to attend an orientation and coaching session in New York City on October 10-11, 2012, and the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum, November 14-18, 2012, in Palm Springs, CA.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Make a Match


The U.S. Small Business Administration is hosting a Mentor-Protégé Matchmaking Conference series that gives small, disadvantaged businesses access to guidance on federal contracting, face-to-face meetings and opportunities to team with larger businesses and graduates of the SBA’s 8(a) Business Development program.

During the forums, small businesses will learn how to market themselves to the federal government and go after government contracting opportunities.  They will also get an overview of the SBA’s Mentor-Protégé program – a tool of the SBA’s 8(a) program that encourages mentors to team with a protégé or smaller firm to help them with management and technical assistance, financial assistance and access to joint ventures and federal contracting opportunities.

Small disadvantaged businesses and 8(a) firms interested in attending must register at: http://sba.mybusinessmatches.com/buyers/generalinfo. Approximately 300 small businesses will be matched prior to their meetings based on their compatibility.

The upcoming conference cities are scheduled as follows:

•       Chicago, Ill. (April 5)
•       Denver, Colo. (April 11)
•       Boston, Mass. (May 10)
•       Newark, N.J. (May 23)
•       Seattle, Wash. (June 7)
•       Kansas City, Mo. (June 21)
•       Sacramento, Calif. (July 24)
•       Cleveland, Ohio (August 7)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Both And for Back Up

How to back up your company data? Best to use a belt-and-suspenders strategy, experts say.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Flop, or Flip?

Your business is a flop, you say? You might reconsider giving up after you read my Q&A with the CEO of Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Parks.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Made in the USA

As I've written, American-made products boast quality levels that give them an edge around the world.

But are you buying them right here at home? I want to support domestic manufacturing, but sometimes it's hard to know where the products we buy are made.

A new website, KeepAmerica.com, is doing its part to promote American-made products by making it easy to find and purchase American-made products.

Site organizers say if every American spent $64 on U.S.-made products, the activity could potentially create 200,000 jobs. Give it a look.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Self-Funding

When Elena Bajic launched her online executive-matching company, IvyExec.com, in 2007, she self-funded it. Things worked out so well, she advises other entrepreneurs to avoid venture capital and rely on the traditional trio of "friends, family and angels" when raising capital.

 But how do you keep those investors happy? Here are Elena's tips:

Send quarterly reports.  It’s critical to keep investors updated.

Be transparent.  “Don’t hide anything,” Elena says.  “It’s better to be up front with both the bad and the good.”

Have skin in the game: “You must be willing to sacrifice and show your commitment to investors.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Crowd Fight

Is crowdfunding going to save the American economy, or unleash the power of crooks and con artists on the Internet?

My recent Smart Answers column discusses the controversy. Check it out; pretty interesting topic.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Live Chat


Need some marketing tips?

Log on today for a live chat at 11 a.m. Pacific/2 p.m. Eastern time with small business author John Jantsch, sponsored by The UPS Stores.

The chat session will include Jantsch's thoughts on marketing and a chance for small business owners to submit questions on the topic. Jantsch is the author of "Duct Tape Marketing" and "The Referral Engine."

Monday, March 12, 2012

Save Some Gas

One of the many benefits of working from home? Fluctuating fuel prices don't give me gas - or a headache!

Here are some tips for businesses that do have to cope with rising gas prices, from Connie Certusi, general manager of Sage Small Business Accounting:

When possible, plan out your deliveries and group your deliveries in the same area for the same days. Have your drivers use GPS to find the shortest routes. Here's an app that helps you calculate fuel savings while you're on the road.

Are your competitors passing along the higher cost of gas to customers? Should you charge a fuel surcharge to help manage the rise in costs?

Use accounting software to manage your cash flow and so that you can easily tell how much the rise in fuel is really costing your business.

Ask your accountant if there are tax benefits to getting new, more fuel-efficient vehicles. This might be a great way to get some lower tax provisions while upgrading your company vehicles.

Maintain your vehicles: Underinflated tires, misalignment, dirty filters and dirty oil can decrease your gas mileage.

Friday, March 9, 2012

You're Late!


About half of all entrepreneurs say late payments are the bane of their business.

Here's an infographic that summarizes what PaySimple found out about coping with late payers.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Is the small-town pharmacy - and the pharmacist who knows your name - an unsustainable business model? Check out my column today.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Into Financial Confidence



Happy Leap Year Day! 2012 has given you a whole extra 24 hours, now what are you going to do with it?

You may just have some very exciting plans, and heaven forbid me from derailing them. But if you don't, our friends over at the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards have some suggestions (don't they always?).


The Board's consumer advocate, Eleanor Blayney, says individuals should take a few of these bonus hours to "peel back the layers of their financial lives" and do a true self-assessment. "Sharpen your pencils, fire up your computer or tablet and take stock of where you are right now,” she suggests.


Take your most recent tax return, your last pay stub, and the latest statements for your retirement and investment accounts and ask yourself the following questions:

         What is your gross and net income, and what are your expenses?
         What do you have in terms of financial assets (savings and investment accounts, real estate, retirement plans, etc.)? 

         What are your debts, both in terms of amounts outstanding as well as what you pay each month?

         What workplace benefits do you receive? 

         What insurance coverage do you have to protect your health, income, life, property, or need for physical assistance?


         How are your assets titled and who gets them when you are no longer here?


Answering all these questions, at one time, in one place, is a key first step to building a sound foundation for a financial plan. “Knowing your starting point is necessary for figuring out how far you have to go to achieve your goals, or if, indeed, those goals are feasible,” Blayney says. “By focusing on exactly where you stand, you’ll be taking a big leap toward financial confidence in 2012.”

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Debt Consolidation? Don't Go There

Nearly all Americans - 75 percent of us - have debt; and more than half of us worry about our loan balances, according to a new poll from the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE).

For cash-strapped consumers, debt consolidation loans might seem like a quick fix to solve money woes. But quick fixes are rarely that, and there's plenty of peril in these loans - and plenty of complications that aren't mentioned in their advertising campaigns.

New NEFE-supported research reveals that the ads for these loans do not give consumers a full picture of the total costs, and don't warn them that they can make their financial situations even worse. With a debt consolidation loan, a consumer’s multiple debts are combined into a single loan with a longer term, resulting in a lower monthly payment.

But stretching out a loan gives you a greater overall debt burden: A five-year loan for $20,000 at 10 percent interest would mean a $425 monthly payment and total interest of $5,496. Extending to 15 years would knock down the monthly payment to $215, but it would increase the total interest to $18,685 - quite a big difference!

Some debt-consolidation loans include hidden fees and penalties, including application fees. The worst part is that these loan packagers often label themselves "credit counselors" - so the borrower is lulled into thinking they are acting in his or her best interest, when actually the lending institution is selling the loan at the highest rate possible, for its own benefit.

Read more about the right ways to get out of debt and find additional income to pay down debt, at Smart About Money.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Survey Says

What's going on in the minds of small business owners? Things are looking up.

Confidence in January remained basically unchanged from December, though the index is currently at its highest level since one year ago, after dropping throughout most of 2011.

And a Gallup survey about hiring intentions is at its highest level in four years. Gallup and Wells Fargo asked 600 small business owners to assess conditions within their companies as well as their outlook.

Here are some key findings:

By 22% to 8%, more U.S. small-business owners expect to increase than decrease the total number of jobs at their company over the next 12 months.

Small-business owners are more optimistic about hiring now than at any time in the past four years.

When asked what type of workers they would hire if they were able to hire and had hiring needs, 26% of small-business owners said they would hire full-time employees, while 72% said they would prefer to add temporary or contract workers (36%) or part-time workers (36%).

Just over half of small-business owners report it is very (21%) or somewhat difficult (32%) to find the qualified employees they need for their businesses.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Insurance for Freelancers

Freelancers get lots of perks, but they tend to be lifestyle-related - as opposed to benefits and salary-related.

The biggest complication for most freelancers is the thorny question of insurance and health care costs. I'm fortunate that I've been covered by my spouse's plan all these years, but many of my freelance writer friends are not, and buying insurance privately is tough.

There is some good news on the horizon. As part of the 2010 health care reform bill (aka Obamacare), nonprofit co-op health care programs are being initiated, with the goal of having at least one in each state. According to Kaiser Health News, "Seven organizations will receive a total of $639 million in federal low-interest loans to launch new, consumer-governed health insurance plans in eight states, the federal government announced Tuesday. The new plans, authorized by the 2010 health law, are scheduled to open for business in 2014. They will be available on the new state health exchanges, or marketplaces, mandated by the law, and primarily will serve Americans under age 65 in the individual and small-group insurance markets."

There's still a wait until all this kicks into gear in 2014, however. Meanwhile, here are some additional options compiled by GoHealthInsurance:

Individual Health Insurance: You can take health insurance coverage into your own hands by buying individual health insurance. There are a variety of options for your budget and health needs. For those with a tight budget consider a high deductible plan with low monthly payments.

Chamber of Commerce: Most people do not realize that their local chamber of commerce could be a good option for insurance. Many chambers of commerce offer small business plans that might be a potential option for you. Visit your local branch to learn more about this type of plan.

Freelancers Union: Freelancers seeking health insurance might find what they are looking for with the Freelancers Union. The organization is free to join and its sole purpose is to support freelancers across the country. You can even opt for dental and disability insurance.

COBRA: The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 offers health insurance options for those individuals who recently resigned or were fired from their position. If you are leaving your current office to become a freelancer, COBRA could be a good option for you. But, keep in mind, it is not a long-term solution. Once you sign up for COBRA, you have 18 months to utilize the plan, and after that, you will need to seek a more permanent solution like individual health insurance.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

National Entrepreneurship Week

As far as we're concerned, every week is "entrepreneur week" at Bloomberg Businessweek's SmallBiz channel.

But occasionally, others dedicate a special week or two to focus on small business. This week, the Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education is celebrating the heritage of entrepreneurship in America and of entrepreneurship education for the next generation.

As part of the festivities, the U.S. Small Business Administration is hosting a webinar every afternoon this week at 12 noon Pacific/3 p.m. Eastern time. The emphasis is on financial empowerment and building entrepreneurship skills using business basics, social networking and business strategies.

Get the full list of topics and log-on information here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tax Day is April 17

That's right: April 15 is a Sunday and April 16 is a Washington, D.C. holiday so tax day is April 17 this year.

That gives you less than two months to pull your papers together, or at least get your electronic records in order. I have a source (a tax accountant, natch), who says he loves tax season because it brings all Americans together in a way very few other "holidays" do. For a few weeks or months, we all experience the agony of the missing receipt and the mistaken addition of a column of figures. But we do it as fellow countrymen and countrywomen, damn it!

Well, I'm not so sure he's onto something with that. But I am happy to report that my return is completed and ready to be e-filed. I also helped my son do his first-ever tax return last weekend - and I'm happy to say we're both getting refunds!

I would never attempt to do my own returns, because working at home and being self-employed makes them very complicated. But my son who works just part-time used the IRS' Free File service, which is available to anyone. There's also a free file tax software program that's available for taxpayers with 2011 adjusted gross income of $57,000 or less, which encompasses about 100 million Americans, or 70 percent of all taxpayers.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Free Twitter Ad Space


Here's a timely offer you may not be able to resist:

American Express, in partnership with social media giant Twitter, is announcing that its Cardmembers and merchants will be given exclusive first access to Twitter’s new advertising solution for small businesses. Amex will give $100 in free Twitter ads to the first 10,000 eligible businesses that register at ads.twitter.com/amex.

The exclusive offer will give business owners the ability to leverage promoted ad products on Twitter and engage its more than 300 million users – a pool of potential customers largely untapped by entrepreneurs.

Businesses that sign-up today will be able to kick their Twitter campaigns off at the end of March.  The new advertising solution will open to the general public later in the year.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Comic Financials


For many small business owners, the toughest part of success is tracking and understanding the nitty-gritty financials. They may be terrific at making their product, or delivering their service. They are good marketing people and excellent at sales.

But staying on top of the numbers and reading the financial statements is a different story. And yet it's not optional if you truly want to succeed at business.

Now, an excellent book that I've recommended in the past is available in a new format: As a comic book!

SmarterComics has teamed up with L.A. financial whiz Karen Berman and her co-author Joe Knight, of the Business Literacy Institute, to release a comic book version of their book, "Financial Intelligence: A Manager’s Guide to Knowing What the Numbers Really Mean."

What a terrific idea! Check it out.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Entrepreneurship Education

It's a great impulse to get some education on entrepreneurship before you start a small business or become self-employed. There's a lot to know - and it's better to learn before you make a costly mistake.

However, there's a lot of bad business training offered online or in person. Some of it is out-of-touch, outdated, sketchy or basically a sales pitch. Worse are the out-and-out scams that seek to separate naive wanna-be entrepreneurs from their nest eggs.

Read my column today to learn how to vet business education classes.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Free Stuff

Unless they are burning through investor funds in the heady technology startup world, most small business owners are penny-pinchers. Give them a free resource and they'll take full advantage of it!

So, from CEO.com, here's a list of freebies you might not have heard of:

Box.net – Free data storage
Mail Chimp – Free direct marketing
NYCEDC – Available incubator spaces in New York (similar sites exist in other cities)
FaceTime – Video conferencing from your Mac or iPhone
FreeAdvice – Free legal advice on LLCs, partnerships, etc.
AccountingCoach – Free training on accounting for non-accountants
FreeCycle – Free equipment sharing
FreshBooks – Free invoicing, time tracking, and billing software