Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Little Orphan Brandie

Remember Speidel watches and Pine Bros. sore throat drops?

If you grew up in Southern California, did you ever eat Swiss Orange Chip (or my fav Mocha Chip) at a Swensen's ice cream parlour?

My column today is about how entrepreneurs resurrect orphan brands. One tip: Nostalgia is not enough if a product or company went away for good reason!

Monday, January 30, 2012

How-To Social Media

Two heavy-hitters, American Express and Facebook, are partnering to educate small business owners about how to use social media.

Business Knowledge Share groups on LinkedIn and Facebook will act as forums for small business owners to get advice from representatives at the two companies. The main topics: How to take advantage of various social media platforms.

You can start with some YouTube videos, Why Use Facebook For Business?,  How Do I Get My Business Started on Facebook? and How Can I Get the Most Out of Facebook For My Business?

As long as I'm talking Facebook and business, I should also plug the book I edited last year, Facebook Marketing (third edition) by Brian Carter and Justin Levy.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Entrepreneurship for the 1%?

Are the super-rich suited for entrepreneurship?

Maybe - and maybe not - according to the experts I interviewed for today's Smart Answers column.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Keeper Employees

Since it was posted last fall, this Bloomberg Businessweek article has consistently been one of the most discussed, most emailed articles on our website. That's saying a lot, given how many articles are posted each week and how many are discussed and emailed by our readers.

The topic is provocative, and I suspect the headline makes it irresistible to business owners, "Three Types of People To Fire Immediately."

But what if we backed up a bit, and instead of focusing on firing, we thought about hiring? A happier topic, and one that management consultant Jeff Wissink, of Navint, tackled recently in an article about hiring "keeper" employees. Find a few of his thoughts (abridged by me) after the break:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Communication Commandments

Author and communication expert Cliff Michaels has a new book out on entrepreneurial thinking. I think he's onto something when he recognizes that an entrepreneurial mindset is essential to a successful venture.

With entrepreneurship on the uptick these days, and more people persuaded that self-employment is the wave of the future, we could probably all afford to learn about entrepreneurial thinking.

Here are Michaels' dozen communications commandments for entrepreneurs:

Friday, January 20, 2012

Spammers and Scammers

Are the bad guys working overtime, or what? Maybe the New Year's resolutions are kicking in for crooks and liars.

At any rate, be careful out there. In the past week, I've been hit with a Twitter phishing attack, a couple of spam emails (fortunately blocked by my virus protection) and a phone call offering me a "free Bahama cruise" if I would take a 30-second survey.


If something's too good to be true, an unfamiliar website asks you to enter your password, or anything strikes you as "not quite right," heed your impulses and get out, quickly. Better to lose out on a freebie than fall for a scheme. And cruises aren't looking quite so attractive these days anyway.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Irate Customers

Have you ever gotten good and mad at a company you've done business with? Of course you have.

For me, how the company handles my complaint is a make-or-break moment. That's because I am really not a difficult person. Really, I'm not! If anything, I'm too easy to please and too willing to make concessions. Especially compared to many of my (terrifically picky) friends. Just sayin'.

So when I am upset with a product or service, and upset enough to bring it to the provider's attention, something is really wrong.

Companies can be responsive, understanding and remedy the situation. Or they can be snotty, dismissive and utterly unhelpful. The first attitude usually earns them another chance. If they're particularly nice, I'll forgive them completely.

But the latter attitude is a deal-breaker. I will make a point never to do business again with a company that belittles my concerns and makes it clear they don't care enough to remedy them.

Service strategist John Tschohl, http://www.johntschohl.com, author of "Achieving Excellence Through Customer Service," has come up with a list of do's-and-don'ts for defusing irate customer situations.

Listen carefully and with interest to what the customer is telling you.
Apologize without laying blame, regardless of who is at fault.
Put yourself in the customer’s place, and respond in a way that shows you care about his or her concerns. Use phrases such as, “I understand that must be upsetting,” or “I don’t blame you for being upset; I would feel the same way.”
Ask pertinent questions in a caring, concerned manner, and actively listen to the answers.
Suggest one or more alternatives that would address the customer’s concerns.
Solve the problem quickly and efficiently, or find someone who can.


Directly challenge someone who has a complaint and is angry. Even if that customer is wrong, don’t attempt to prove it. Your goal is to solve the problem, not to enter into a debate on the merits of the complaint.
Let the conversation wander or get off the topic. Solve the crisis at hand without looking for, and finding, additional problems.
Participate in fault finding. Shifting blame doesn’t help anyone.
Let your personal feelings get in the way. Stay cool and use courtesy and tact to resolve the situation.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

No More Rip-Offs

Every year, thousands of people get ripped off by scams that seem obvious and easy-to-avoid - at least in hindsight.

Problem is that even the savviest among us can fall prey to silly frauds because we all let our guards down at least once in a while. And distracted, exhausted small business owners are especially prone to falling for cons just because they are so busy trying to make a living.

The Better Business Bureau has established a new Scam Source website where you can check out and report scams. They've also released the Top 10 scams of 2011, with the supreme irony that the year's worst scam was a phishing email that purported to come from the BBB itself:
Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people have gotten emails that very much look like an official notice from BBB. The subject line says something like “Complaint Against Your Business,” and the instructions tell the recipient to either click on a link or open an attachment to get the details. If the recipient does either, a malicious virus is launched on their computer…a virus that can steal banking information, passwords and other critical pieces of information needed for cyber-theft.
What can you do to protect yourself? There are a whole host of commonsense precautions you can take, particularly to avoid increasingly prevalent online scams.

One rule that's helped me: I never give money over the phone. To anyone. Period.

If a legitimate charity is soliciting your donation, they will be happy to send you a physical letter with information on their organization. You can then check them out with a rating group like Charity Navigator and make an informed decision about supporting them. If they are scammers, they'll give up (or you can hang up) when you ask them to mail you information about their group.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Paradox of Power

I've been writing a lot recently about women in business and how to narrow the persistent gender gap we see both in entrepreneurship and in executive leadership.

Just in time, here's a new research paper, "Women and the Paradox of Power," written by two female researchers, Jane Perdue of Braithwaite Innovation Group and Dr. Anne Perschel of Germane Consulting.

You can download the entire document at their website (click link above) but here's a few of their findings after the jump:

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Overcoming Obstacles in 2012

What are the top obstacles to small business growth in 2012?

Check out this week's Smart Answers column and get some advice on how to overcome them.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Undetected Bias Uncovered

Why are there so few female tech entrepreneurs?

I've explored several possibilites over the years, but this was a new one on me. Check out some fascinating new research from my colleague, Scott Shane.